When people hear the words “EMDR Therapy,” many people are unsure what it is and how it works. People may be hesitant to start EMDR Therapy due to not having enough information. In this blog I'll be discussing what it is, why it helps, and how it is different than other therapies.
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This means we use bilateral stimulation (eye movements, sounds, or vibrations experienced from one side of your body to the other) to aid in neutralizing a traumatic event or negative belief to find a more balanced way of viewing ourselves and the negative event.
Bilateral stimulation helps access our brain's natural healing function so we can reprocess an event in a way that helps you get "unstuck" from the event of belief. Therapists may use different types of bilateral stimulation depending on what works for the client. Therapists may use their fingers or an object passing back and forth in front of your eyes, they may use headphones to have a tone play from left to right, or they may use little objects that you hold in your hands that vibrate back and forth. All these techniques are different ways of creating bilateral stimulation where we concentrate on one side of the body, and then the other.
Depending on the person and the issue, talk therapy can be great and all that is needed to help someone. However, there may be an event and/or belief that continues to feel "stuck" to matter how many times you've processed it with someone. This is where EMDR therapy comes in to play. EMDR digs just a little deeper and really helps neutralize the events and/or beliefs to where they no longer have a strong emotional charge.
I often use the Disney movie Inside Out as an analogy to help adolescents and parents understand how trauma works and how EMDR can help. In the movie, the character who represents the feeling Sadness, ends up touching certain “core memories” and changing how the main character remembers and feels about situations like that core memory. When trauma happens and the event isn’t processed in a healthy way, it becomes stuck and stays on our minds. EMDR helps reprocess these memories so we no longer believe the negative messages the event left us with, as well as feel free from the emotional toll that it had.
A session of EMDR Therapy will have you and your therapist identifying the worst part of the event, negative beliefs associated with it, as well as tapping into the feelings you experienced. You will then begin the bilateral stimulation (eye movements, sounds, or vibrations) to start reprocessing. Our minds and feelings are complex, so everyone’s experience with this is different. Some of the things I generally hear from clients are that they may remember situations similar to the current target, experience different feelings and body sensations, and have abstract thoughts that are associated with the hurt.
After the event/target no longer holds any distress, we install a positive belief to replace the negative belief. Beliefs such as “I did my best, I can trust myself, I am good enough, etc,” which are generally opposites of the negative belief. When you look back on the event, you can look at it with a more balanced viewpoint and not be stuck having extreme distress and beliefs tied to it.
EMDR Therapy can be used on children and adults for all sorts of negative events and beliefs. It is an extremely healing mode of therapy that has given so many people the relief they deserve. I hope this has helped you learn more about EMDR Therapy and feel more comfortable about making an informed decision for yourself or a loved one.
Written by Devan of SafeHeart Counseling. Devan is the founder and owner of SafeHeart Counseling, which provides therapy services to children and teens. SafeHeart Counseling specializes in working with eating disorders, trauma, and anxiety.