By: Anny Seitz
When people ask me about EMDR, the first thing out of my mouth is “I love EMDR! It’s amazing.” I know that’s not what they’re asking, but I can’t curb my enthusiasm for this great gift to the world of therapy. As a therapist, I always want to support my clients in making the changes that they think will benefit them. EMDR is the most efficient way I know for them to do that.
So what is “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing” Therapy? So glad you asked – again! First, EMDR helps clients understand the way that past life events can impact our beliefs about ourselves and the world we live in. Difficult or disturbing experiences in the past can change the brain in such a way that negative beliefs begin to color our experiences in the present. Once we understand that relationship, we can use EMDR to send those memories to the past where they belong. Indeed, we can change neural pathways to help the brain access more positive beliefs, bringing about a more positive experience of life.
Have you been working on your coping skills? Got a pet that’s your best friend? Does that memory you have of a California sunset bring you peace and calm? Fantastic. We can develop all of the above in Phase 2 as resources – tools we will use either during reprocessing to help you stay present or at the end of a session to help you transition to the rest of your day. An EMDR therapist will likely teach you at least 3 visualization techniques and may also help you develop an internal cast of resource figures that can provide protection, nurturance, or wisdom. With a trained EMDR therapist, you will be asked to revisit the past in a way that will likely be quite activating, and these resources can help you keep the activation at a tolerable level.
Eye movement is just one kind of bilateral stimulation that can be used in the reprocessing phase of EMDR. Many of my clients enjoy using my TheraTappers, which are essentially little palm-sized buzzers that vibrate in your hands, alternating left and right, while you focus on the sensory details of a memory. Bilateral stimulation helps clients to keep their attention on the relative safety of the present moment while simultaneously bringing their attention to the disturbing memory in the past. This is called dual attention, and it is essential to our process.
Similar to some therapies, EMDR can indeed change the way we think about things, or produce a shift in cognition. Unlike some other therapies, it does not rely on thinking to effect this change. Instead, I’ll invite you to just let your mind go where it wants to go, traveling through those neural pathways like a hitchhiker in the 70s. If we encounter a “thinker” part of you, or any other part of you that’s getting in the way of reprocessing, we’ll just befriend it, get to know it, and ask it kindly to step back. One of my favorite things about EMDR is that change comes from within. Client-centered change is not only more effective and longer-lasting, it’s empowering as heck!
Is EMDR a good option for you? If you’ve been in therapy for a while and have found it helpful but still have those spots where you feel a little stuck (distressing memories or negative beliefs about yourself that seem to persist, for example) , EMDR might be a good choice. EMDR is an evidence-based practice that has been shown to be effective with a wide range of challenges, from single-incident trauma, to anxiety and depression, grief, substance use, and eating disorders.
Although EMDR may activate a certain level of distress during the reprocessing phases, it is important to remember that there is a big difference between re-living the memory and re-visiting it with an EMDR therapist. Many of my clients find it helpful to think of your EMDR journey like this: You’re going on a train ride, and you have a first class seat by the window. You are practicing dual-attention. Out the window is the memory you’ll revisit. There is a thick pane of glass between you and the memory, which allows you to keep your awareness both inside the train car and on the scene outside. You’re not alone this time. Your EMDR therapist will be right there with you. You have tools. You’ve developed many resources that you may not have had at the time of the memory. You are in control. You can say “stop” or “pause” at any time and the train will stop.
One feature of EMDR that some clients really love is that you get to decide whether to share details of your memories with your therapist. You are welcome to share as much or as little information as makes you comfortable. We can reprocess memories with just key words or headlines.
If you would like to know more about EMDR therapy, please visit https://www.emdria.org. To watch an EMDR master clinician conduct a 1-hour reprocessing session with a volunteer, visit https://youtu.be/L6UvKhLYf7w. To schedule a consultation and discuss if EMDR therapy is right for you, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.