MIND MATTERS: My brain on EMDR
Recently, I took advantage of some incredible training in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). The name alone is daunting. It required some practice to say the full name correctly and describe the therapy to my clients in a way they could wrap their brains around it. Because EMDR is true “brain processing” and not traditional psychotherapy, it forces me to wear a different therapeutic hat when facilitating an EMDR session. My clients need to understand the reasoning behind the theory and what to expect.
Before I describe my own experience as a recent client of EMDR, I would like to explain how EMDR works. According to the EMDR National Association’s website, “the goal of EMDR therapy is to process completely the experiences that are causing problems and to include new ones that are needed for full health. ‘Processing’ does not mean talking about it. ‘Processing’ means creating a learning state that will allow experiences that are causing problems to be ‘digested’ and stored appropriately in your brain.” Even this explanation is difficult to comprehend.
EMDR is most commonly used for PTSD, trauma, and abuse. In layman’s terms, it helps our brains and memories make sense of what has happened to us. It replaces our disturbing thoughts with more pleasant ones and stores the traumatic memories in a different part of the brain in a way that will not “trigger” distress when that painful thought reoccurs. A “useful” outcome occurs when a disturbing experience is “learned and stored” with appropriate emotions and your brain will be able to guide you in positive ways in the future (EMDRIA, 2016). Furthermore, the client’s brain does all the work with little input from the therapist. Is this amazing or what?
As a therapist specializing in trauma and abuse, I had been looking for ways to help my clients get to the next step in their healing. I have always been intrigued, but somewhat skeptical, of EMDR therapy. Therefore, I eagerly volunteered at my EMDR training to be the guinea pig—and what I experienced took all the skepticism away. Here is a much abbreviated description of my experience receiving EMDR treatment.
As the therapy began, I was asked to remember a specific, traumatic event from the past. As I began to visualize that experience in my mind, I was asked to describe the sensations and notice where I was feeling it in my body. I was then asked how “I felt” about the event. As I tracked the therapist’s fingers moving my eyes left to right, I was asked to “process” the thoughts that were coming to mind. After several rounds, I could feel a swell of feelings rising to the surface. My face began to flush, and I began to experience a relaxing and calming feeling as the eye movement therapy continued. After approximately 20 minutes, I was asked to associate a new, more positive belief with the disturbing situation. What I experienced next was nothing short of amazing. I began to feel less stressed and developed new insight about my disturbing event. In the end, my anxiety was lowered to a zero level. I was emotionally drained after the session, but felt so light and free.
After this experience, I was a believer. My clients are now benefitting greatly from this additional therapy technique in my practice. The fact that EMDR is a proven and researched therapy gives me assurance that I can recommend this to many clients who need the next step toward their healing. If you, or someone you know, are interested in EMDR, please call me. After all, I understand . . . I’ve been there.
Renee Trimble, MS, LPC Intern, LCDC
EMDR International Association (2016). https://emdrisa.site