What is EMDR? It’s not about the eyes! or something like that.

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, but in fact it isn’t really much about the eyes! It’s a therapy that uses ‘bilateral stimulation’ of the brain. For example, as you think about something that bothers you (like a traumatic memory or issue), I wave my hand in front of your eyes and you follow it back and forth. Eye movement is one form of bilateral stimulation however we’ve found that we can often get the same treatment effects with a headset and alternating beeps, or alternating taps on the hands. The idea is that traumatic memories sometimes get ‘stuck’ in the information-processing system of the brain, along with the emotions and even the physical sensations that went with the original experience.

When something bad happens, it happens first to the body, then the emotions kick in and then you start to ‘reprocess’ the event – you think about it, sleep on it, get support, time passes etc. At the end of that reprocessing, you can still remember the bad event, but it no longer bothers you – I’m sure you can think of bad things that have happened to you in your life, and you still remember them, but you have peace with them. That’s an example of the brain working the way it should. But sometimes this reprocessing gets stuck, and this is where EMDR comes in. It “desensitizes and reprocesses” the difficult memory or issue so that you have peace with it.

We think EMDR might have to do with the same thing your brain is doing during the dream stage of sleep (REM sleep). EMDR is thought to be a kind of accelerated, conscious version of REM sleep.  We also know that our later memories ‘stack’ on top of earlier ones, so we are very interested in those earlier “feeder” memories of things that happened when you were at your most vulnerable (in childhood). If you resolve the feeder memory, it’s like getting the ‘root system of the dandelion’ rather than just cutting the bloom off. EMDR has been extensively validated by regulating and governmental bodies in the States and around the world and by the World Health Organization (WHO).

During an EMDR session, you think about the issue or traumatic memory and we do a number of ‘sets’ of Bilateral Stimulation. It’s useful to use the metaphor of a train journey. You’re sitting in the carriage of a train, here in my office, and if upsetting feelings come up, it’s just like the scenery outside the train. All you have to do is notice and let it go by. Your brain is looking to take you wherever it needs to go. You need to know that you may experience intense emotions, both during an EMDR session and also perhaps between sessions. This can be difficult and tiring emotional work and you need to take really good care of yourself during the time you’re doing the EMDR therapy.

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