What is it?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful, specialized therapy used to relieve the effects of upsetting emotional experiences and traumatic experiences, including PTSD.
Traumatic experiences lie on a continuum. The more extreme situations that readily come to mind are sometimes referred to as “capital ‘T’ traumas.” These include war combat, rape, child abuse or neglect, torture, witnessing a murder, natural disasters, and man-made disasters (bombings, school shootings, terrorist attacks).
Situations that may have a similarly debilitating effect, but are less apparent are sometimes referred to as “lower case ‘t’ traumas.” Examples include: divorce, sudden death of a loved one, being publicly embarrassed or made fun of, subtle or open discrimination, automobile accidents, and feeling self-conscious about one’s intelligence, athletic abilities, or body.
EMDR is a fast-acting therapy technique shown to be efficacious in treating symptoms associated with anxiety, phobias, addictions, performance anxiety, low self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, unresolved grief, and many instances where one feels “stuck” or “blocked.”
How does it work?
When a person experiences a very upsetting or traumatic event, changes occur in the nervous system that cause the brain to be unable to process the situation the way normal, non-upsetting experiences are processed. This can lead to the phenomena of the event feeling “frozen in time,” whereby merely remembering the upsetting event evokes the same thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations as when the person originally experienced the painful event.
EMDR uses the body’s natural healing ability to help a person reprocess the traumatic memories that are charged with overwhelming and painful intensity. Much like REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in which it is believed that information processing from the day’s events is facilitated by one’s eyes moving back and forth, EMDR utilizes left/right eye movement, sound, or tactile bilateral stimulation to move the “stuck” (unprocessed) information from the right hemisphere of the brain so it may be processed between the two hemispheres.
Reprocessing the traumatic, or anxiety-producing memory in this manner tends to facilitate change that results in the memory losing its overwhelming, “emotionally charged” quality, thereafter becoming a non-charged or even neutral memory of a past event.
EMDR is one of the most researched psychotherapy methods for treating trauma and PTSD. It has been determined to have “the highest level of effectiveness” for the treatment of trauma, and is endorsed by the following reputable organizations:
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS)
- Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense (V/A & DoD)
- Israeli National Council for Mental Health
- French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM)
- National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) – England/Wales
- Clinical Resource Efficiency Support Team (CREST) – Northern Ireland Dept. of Health
- American Psychiatric Association (APA)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a division of USA Department of Health and Human Services
- United Kingdom Dept. of Health
EMDR has strong empirical support for its efficacy, particularly in PTSD and Anxiety Disorders. Please see the EMDR Institute’s website https://emdr.com/ or the EMDR International’s website https://emdria.org or the EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Program site www.emdrhap.org for more information.
I sought out EMDR as an opportunity to further heal from a partner rape, which had occurred 3.5 years prior. I had been through counseling but was unable to move past certain images and triggers associated with the rape.
Since EMDR, I’ve found that the triggers that immediately stimulated an image no longer do. I am able to hear his name or see a reminder without quickly experiencing the scene all over again. It has resolved a lot of the stress and tension in my life associated to him and the event.
I now feel more at peace and more confident in my ability to face the world and recognize myself as a survivor. I used to feel like I was making progress in my healing, and little by little I was – yet EMDR removed the anxiety that continued to resurface. I no longer feel stuck or trapped by my experience.
EMDR helped me to vocalize the pain in a new way. It’s been evident for me in my relationships now that that experience has lost its strength in my life. I am learning to love and trust and see people as individuals and not reminders of my past experience. I have dreamed of knowing this feeling again and EMDR has given me that chance. I am able to stand tall and avoid the self doubt and victim mentality that has been with me for the past few years.