Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
Has life presented you with unexpected challenges? Many of these can be considered traumas of one sort or another. Big events such as being part of a war effort; a rape or car accident; violence; child, spouse, or elder abuse, are major traumas. Other more chronic experiences such as neglect, alcoholism or loss can also be considered trauma. If your life includes any of these, their effect can be lasting and challenging. Memories of traumatic experiences are stored in the brain differently than everyday memories, which is why their impact can’t be overcome just through willpower or the desire to change. If certain situations leave you feeling frozen, overly afraid, uncomfortable, or younger than you actually are, you may be experiencing the after-effects of trauma. Some cases of depression and anxiety or also linked to trauma.
Clinical research and studies have led the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the U.S Veteran’s Administration to rank EMDR as a highly recommended approach in the treatment of trauma (ther highest ranking). It is a focused, multi-step approach which invokes the brain’s natural healing ability to transform the way traumatic memories are stored, so that the impairment often caused by such events is eliminated. This focused approach means that EMDR often resolves the residual effects of trauma more rapidly than other treatment approaches.
EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to invoke a brain response similar that produced in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which is when we dream. The brain naturally uses this dream state to try to resolve traumatic or unresolved memories, but at times cannot do so because the fear or wariness associated with the event prevents the process from going to completion. The focused EMDR approach allows the brain to complete this process in a safe and thorough way. The bilateral stimulation used in EMDR is usually visual but tactile or audio stimulation can be used as well. It may consist of watching a hand or lights move from side to side; or hearing tones alternate from one ear to the next; or of feeling sensations on one side of the body then the other; all in rapid succession.
EMDR is more than just moving your eyes back and forth. It requires a careful review of current events which cause problematic reactions (such as anxiety, numbness, confusion, or overwhelm), a review of past situations which have triggered similar responses, as well as future events that might be similarly problematic. It involves becoming aware of what emotions and thoughts are associated with these events, as well as how these are reflected in your body sensations and your beliefs. Once this comprehensive background is established, the work can begin by focusing on these elements while triggering the brain’s natural healing process through the bilateral stimulation.
Links related to EMDR:
- A more detailed description about the stages used in EMDR therapy. Other pages on this same site address many other aspects of the treatment, including its history, research, FAQs, etc.
- Website for the EMDR International Association. Addresses many questions regarding EMDR treatment.
- Webpage where many topics about EMDR are addressed by the combined staff of Great Ormand Hospital and University College, London.
- An overview of EMDR from the well-known health website WebMD.