You may have heard of EMDR, but what is it? Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic protocol used in the treatment of mental and emotional trauma. It has been widely praised in the United States and is currently used by agencies such as the American Psychiatric Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.
Major traumatic events such as sexual or physical assault, combat experiences, accidents or the sudden death of a loved can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can also result from less dramatic life events, such as hurtful experiences during childhood. In some cases, these can cause even more symptoms of PTSD than major traumas such as combat or terrorist attacks. As a result of the trauma, there is a disruption in how the brain processes information.
In a “normal” brain that has not experienced a shocking event, processing systems digest information about what has been experienced and make appropriate connections in the brain. Those reactions to the event that are no longer useful (any emotions or physical sensations) are released. However, when an individual experiences a traumatic event, this processing system is disrupted and the negative memories and emotions, as well as physical sensations and beliefs, are stored in the brain.
Research has shown that memories are stored in very specific parts of the brain. When someone experiences trauma, the memories might be stored in a part of the brain that is hard to access, so the memories can get “stuck.” The body relives the traumatic experience over and over and the individual can’t work through that event or figure out how to cope. The point of EMDR is to decrease the emotion behind the traumatic memories.
The Benefits of EMDR Therapy
EMDR is an effective protocol to treat these unprocessed past memories that are poisoning the present. EMDR combines different elements of many effective therapies to maximize treatment effects and is able to remove the anxiety, fear and sadness that cause individuals to avoid or overreact to situations.
Evaluations of thousands of EMDR sessions indicate that there is a physical response to traumatic events. EMDR techniques allow individuals to identify early memories that are the root of their problems and change their emotions, thoughts, and even physical sensations surrounding them. These same techniques can also help people achieve desired goals by understanding why they do what they do and how they can manage life and their own behaviors better.
How It Works
An EMDR-certified therapist, after assessing a client and preparing a treatment plan, directs the client to move their eyes in a certain way, usually left and right, back and forth. Looking left and then looking right accesses most areas of the brain, and doing this while thinking about a traumatic memory helps the memory to get dislodged, or “unstuck.” This process integrates that memory to both hemispheres of the brain, spreading it out and giving the brain more resources to cope with it. The memory becomes less powerful. It changes the emotional response so it’s not as intense.
Neurofeedback can perform a similar process to aid in recovery from trauma: A therapist puts sensors on a cap over the left and right hemispheres of your brain to train both sides to integrate and communicate better with each other. Usually our traumatic memories are stored in the temporal lobes. By placing one sensor on the left temporal lobe and one sensor on the right temporal lobe, neurofeedback training can decrease beta waves and make communication better to desensitize that traumatic experience.
EMDR is used to treat a variety of issues including:
- Panic attacks
- Complicated grief
- Dissociative disorders
- Disturbing memories
- Pain disorders
- Performance anxiety
- Stress reduction
- Sexual and/or physical abuse
- Body dysmorphic disorders
- Personality Disorders
If you or a loved one suffer from any of the above and believe you may benefit from EMDR or neurofeedback, please contact us. We would be happy to discuss treatment options and answer your questions. Call or text 801-855-7999, or schedule a free consultation with a therapist.
For additional reading, see “What is the actual EMDR session like?”.