What is EMDR?
EMDR is short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
This method originated using eye movements, but the power of EMDR is really through bilateral stimulation.
EMDR stimulates both hemispheres of the brain (the right hemisphere and left hemisphere) and can be done through tapping or auditory forms of bi-lateral stimulation.
EMDR was originated to help post-traumatic stress disorder, in particular with war veterans.
It turns out that EMDR is effective with all kinds of traumas that we experience in our lives. It doesn’t have to be death and dismemberment. If you broaden the definition of trauma to include any experience that is emotionally overwhelming you will find that EMDR has application in most areas of psychological distress.
What happens during traumas – both big and small – is that the memory doesn’t get stored in adaptive memory (which requires the electrical impulse to traverse both hemispheres of the brain).
Instead of getting stored in long-term memory adaptive memory, trauma gets stuck in the nervous system. It is for this reason many of us experience the intense physiological reactions to triggers such as:
- rapid heartbeat
- difficulty breathing, etc.
As a result, when you have an experience that even remotely resembles or reminds you of the original traumatic experience / memory – your whole body reacts as if you’re right there again.
Some examples of traumas that occur and cause emotional scarring can range from:
- infidelity or betrayal
- being picked on in school
- a break up with a boyfriend / girlfriend
- trauma as a result of the unintended, innocent actions of our parents (being dropped off at daycare, being misunderstood as a toddler, being told to shut up, go to your room, etc.).
- witnessing an accident
- and of course, the more obvious traumas such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
Any type of emotionally overwhelming experience can create a disruption in the normal process of memory storage which then gets stuck in the nervous system and can create all kinds of problems in your present day.
It is for exactly these types of experiences that the bi-lateral stimulation of EMDR is incredibly effective at treating.
It has to do with the different functions of the different hemispheres. The left hemisphere is:
- and language oriented, and
Tthe right hemisphere is:
- and governs motor functions of the body.
So when you have an experience that even remotely resembles a previous trauma, your body and emotions will react before you’ve had a moment to really consider the truth of what is happening.
It is exactly these types of experiences that the bi-lateral stimulation of EMDR is incredibly effective at treating.
This is where the bilateral stimulation comes in.
The right hemisphere of the brain is the motoric area, or your motor sensory function. The left hemisphere is the linguistic area.
A memory, an experience, has to travel and traverse both hemispheres to be stored adaptively. When stored adaptively, it then becomes a part of your rational, linguistic reference system. You can then constructively learn and respond appropriately and in an emotionally grounded way to related present day occurrences.
In an overwhelming emotional experience, the memory gets stuck in the motoric or the right hemisphere, creating sensations of anxiety, panic and depression. Through EMDR and the process of bilateral stimulation, these unconscious and seemingly uncontrollable sensations are released from the nervous system.
There are also other aspects of EMDR that are really powerful. These incorporate a holistic sense of our being and connect mind, body and spirit through:
- body sensations
By stimulating mind, body and soul with the bi-lateral process it creates distance from the original experience.
Most times I will start out with my clients’ at a distress level of 8, 9, or 10 (we use a scale of 0 to 10 with 10 being the worst) and by the end of the process the level of distress is down to anywhere from a 0 to a 3 or 4.
What are the benefits of EMDR for relationships?
Three big bold words! Lose the baggage.
Most of us have heard this term at one time or another. What does it mean?
Baggage are collections of outcomes from past traumatic or emotionally overwhelming experiences that get stuck in the nervous system and interfere with our interpretation of (and reaction to) the present in our relationships.
An easy way to tell if you are carrying baggage is to ask, “Do I get excessively upset about this?” and wonder, “Why I’m am I getting so upset over something so seemingly minor?”
(Note – only you can say if it is excessive – NOT your partner)
If the answer is “yes” it is most likely because the past is flavoring your present, in some cases blinding you to the truth of the present moment.
Has your partner ever said “I love you” or something that you really want to believe, but you just can’t believe it?
You might not even be able to hear the words at all. Perhaps at minimum you are unable to hear and accept their words as truth. This is likely because of your past (aka baggage)!
It can be:
- distant childhood past
- past relationships
- past betrayals from your current relationship
EMDR can help you reprocess and release the old baggage so you can be grounded in the present with your partner. You will then be able to hear their words and see their actions for what they are, not for what you interpret them to be from your wounded past.
What is My Approach to EMDR in Therapy?
Especially in couples’ therapy, it will often happen that one part of the couple will be saying something, and it is completely and totally misinterpreted on the other end.
Because they’re viewing the words through the lens of their past history and wounds, I often will at that point suggest doing a breakout session (an individual session) with them to work on an individual issue.
That really does happen a lot.
Where one of the partners will say “I really love you, I really want to do this with you.”
And the other partner doesn’t hear it at all (or can’t believe it).
As discussed previously, that’s because something related happened in the past.
In the case of being loved, if you can’t believe your partner loves you, maybe somewhere in your past you had an experience – something that made you believe you are not lovable and no one will ever love you. It might be from:
- your parents
- a past relationship
- or any number of other people (teachers, co-workers, etc)
Once that experience is identified, it becomes the target for an EMDR session.
My approach to EMDR is to find the negative, irrational, destructive beliefs and reprocess them into rational and constructive beliefs. This can sometimes be a bit tricky because on a conscious / intellectual level you will likely think otherwise.
A few other examples of negative irrational, destructive beliefs are:
- I don’t deserve love
- I’m not good enough
- I’m not pretty enough
- I’m not smart enough
There are many other variations and forms of these types of beliefs.
When something happens to us that “proves” one of these negative beliefs, we have an overwhelming emotional experience.
I then help you use the overwhelming emotional experiences in the present to target and reprocess these beliefs and the earlier experiences associated with them.
Once this is done we move into the positive stage of finding what it is that you’d rather believe, and through a natural process you will come to see truth in the positive, constructive belief in your nervous system and on a deep core, emotional level.
This is what creates long-lasting change.
It’s really amazing – Sometimes change is possible in just one session ranging from 50 – 90 minutes – sometimes as little as a 50 minute session. A person can go from a 10/10 on the stress level – the worst it’s ever been with the recall of a certain memory or event. And by the end of the session, they’re down to a 2, a 1, or even a 0.
**** Results will vary depending on the extent of the original trauma and the subsequent related buildup. ****
It is really amazing to witness. and I feel honored and awed to be able to watch the transformation.
Furthermore, empirical studies and follow-ups show that the decrease in distress levels remains low over time.
Now – when something happens that would have previously reminded you of that original experience, you don’t have the same emotional response.
Instead you can be more in the present moment, reacting as you’d really like to react. It doesn’t make you immune to your emotions but rather allows you to feel them and react in the way you really want to react.
If you think this approach sounds right for you and you’d like to learn more – schedule a free 20 minute phone consultation with me by using the Schedule Now button or contacting me via phone below. I’m happy to answer your questions and learn more about your specific needs.