What is EMDR?
Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an evidence-based modality focused on alleviating distressing symptoms stemming from traumatic memories or experiences.
The brain has an innate way of processing emotions and memories. When we experience emotionally distressing events, this natural process becomes disrupted. This disruption causes both the traumatic experience and the emotional response to the trauma to become “frozen” in the brain, which, in turn, makes the brain and the nervous system react as if the event is happening over and over again.
EMDR utilizes ‘bilateral stimulation,’ which allows the brain to resume its natural processing of the disturbing memory that was once previously frozen.
Bilateral stimulation is an alternating stimulus that can be administered through visual, auditory or tactile methods. Research indicates that EMDR therapy influences the brain to resume its natural processing of memories. Bilateral stimulation allows the brain to “re-process” experiences and emotions that have gone unprocessed over time. The activation of distressing memories during treatment creates opportunities for reconsolidation.
When a distressing event occurs, the limbic system or emotional brain becomes overwhelmed and causes the prefrontal cortex to shut down. The cortex, which is the brain’s cognitive processing center, is partly responsible for regulating the overactivity in the emotional brain. When the prefrontal cortex shuts down, the emotional brain is in control.
A traumatic experience that goes unprocessed creates numerous changes in the nervous system, such as cortisol release, adrenaline spikes and fluctuations in neurotransmitters. In turn, this leads to an imbalance between neurological and physiological functioning.
Due to this imbalance, the information acquired at the time of the event, including images, sounds, affects, and physical sensations, remain present thereby leading to a heightened physiological state. This heightened state can be triggered by a variety of internal and external stimuli that can present in the form of nightmares, irritable behavior, cognitive and emotional flashbacks, intrusive negative thoughts, inability to experience positive emotions, disassociation and cognitive distortions.
- Francine Shapiro developed the Adaptive Information Processing model (AIP) as a way to explain how using EMDR is effective. Within the AIP model, it suggests that the brain has an innate function to process stressful information to completion. This natural process allows for neurological information and physiological systems to maintain a balance or reach an “adaptive resolution.”
Traditional psychotherapies spend the majority of time during session talking. EMDR is much less verbal, so that the focus can be on re-processing the memories that are causing negative symptoms.
Generally, clients report increased insights and connections with thoughts, emotions, behaviors and past-life experiences.
These insights and connections often lead to relief and a decrease in symptoms.
We regularly use EMDR to treat anxiety, intrusive negative thoughts, fears, panic attacks, phobia, and OCD.
EMDR will extinguish the intensity of the emotions associated with the memory. So, while the memory will remain, the distressing symptoms will no longer be present.