Maybe you have heard these letters while listening to a pod cast or skimming through the daily news, but you are probably wondering what is EMDR? EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, I know, it’s a mouthful. In short, EMDR is a therapy specifically created to help individuals who have experienced trauma.
Under some circumstances, a terrifying or life-threatening event may trigger PTSD, which stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When someone has PTSD, they may experience a host of unwanted thoughts and feelings. These experiences may include flashbacks, nightmares or be startled by everyday sounds which may bring them back to their trauma experiences. Some people with PTSD feel like the event occurred just a moment ago - even when it was months or years in the past.
When we experience trauma, our brain's filing system categorizes the event and links it to thoughts, sounds, smells, sensations and an array of other environmental occurrences. So a person with PTSD might smell burnt toast and it triggers a full-on reliving of horrific domestic violence. Or a car might backfire and a retired Marine might hit the ground, re-experiencing a perilous mission. They might also have a very negative belief or thought associated with the experience. They might believe "I'll always be a failure," "I am unworthy of love and respect," or "I am powerless to change." You can imagine if they held that belief, they might have difficulty with relationships, self-care, addiction and abuse.
As you can imagine, that would be incredibly difficult to live with. EMDR allows a trained therapist to help change the linking of sights, smells, tastes to the trauma experience as well as changing that underlying negative belief system that can be so dis-empowering. EMDR is one of the Trauma Focused therapies offered at Berger Counseling Services. Our therapists are trained in incorporating these services into our on-going therapy program.
It may sound scary to be asked to re-visualize a trauma experience, but the process of EMDR allows us to replay the movie without feeling the overwhelming thoughts and feeling. In fact, a large part of EMDR is setting the client up to have skills to bring these uncomfortable emotions to a manageable level before we ever start dealing with the trauma.
So how does it work? It is believed that EMDR works similar to the way our brain processes information the our sleep period when we dream. This part of our sleep cycle is called rapid eye movement (REM). During REM the brain reviews our day. It's the time where our brain may make sense of the events of the day and sort them.
EMDR therapists ask their client to move their eyes back and forth, similar to what your eyes do when you are in REM sleep. To help, the therapist might move her fingers back and forth, use a lightbar (think Kit from Knight Rider) or tappers you hold. This back and forth motion with the eyes or through tapping activates our brains in a rythymic movement that crosses the midline of our body, called bi-lateral stimulation. During this times, we might ask a person with trauma to recall certain aspects, thoughts or beliefs about the trauma. One of the reasons many clients prefer EMDR therapy is there is not a lot of talking. In fact, while processing the client is merely reporting to the therapist what they are experiencing in the moment which is often a visualization (picture/movie), sounds, colors, smells, and/or sensations in their body.
If you would like to learn more about EMDR services and how it might help with trauma, reach out today.
Wendy is EMDR Trained and has seen personally and professionally how these services have transformed traumatic experiences.