What is EMDR Therapy?
EMDR is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma, anxiety, OCD, substance abuse, and much more. EMDR uses a set of standardized protocols that integrates several different treatment approaches.
What happens when we have trauma?
When we experience trauma, anxiety, etc. our prefrontal cortex shuts down, leaving our limbic system to run the show. Our limbic system is comprised of our emotions, memories, and is also where our survival instincts are at (fight, flight, freeze, and sometimes fawn). Often, individuals who've experienced trauma know how they're feeling, but can't seem to find the words to describe it. This is because part of our language is stored in the prefrontal cortex, which shut down during the traumatic event. And because of this shut down, our brains can't always process our traumatic experience(s) as just a memory; instead we end up reliving our trauma over and over again each time we're triggered. Thus, we live in this vicious loop, even when we're asleep.
Our brains go through several stages while we sleep, but it is in our REM sleep that our brains process information. However, because each time our brain starts to process our trauma, or a trigger surrounding our trauma, our fear, anxiety, and panic that we we experienced during our trauma, kicks back in. This often results in nightmares; even when the nightmares don't seem to be about our trauma. These nightmares either keep us in the same loop (we can't ever run away fast enough or stop ourselves from falling, etc.) or the emotions experienced in the nightmares wake us up, thus not allowing our brains to remain in REM long enough to heal.
How does EMDR help?
EMDR uses bilateral stimulation, typically eye-movements, to activate opposites sides of our brains, as well as mimic our REM cycle, thus allowing our brains to finally process the trauma as a memory. Bilateral stimulation, whether eye-movements or tapping, also keeps us present when we're processing. Meaning, our prefrontal cortex stays on while we're processing the traumatic event, which allows for a lesser emotional charge behind the trauma. EMDR seems to help the brain reprocess the trapped memories in such a way that normal functioning is resumed.
I utilize EMDR to help my clients discover and process negative beliefs that have resulted from relational traumas, typically by a primary caregiver, where childhood abuse and/or neglect was present. I integrate EMDR from an attachment and emotion focused, parts theory perspective, combined with CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and sometimes, DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy).
While EMDR can be split up into shorter 50-minute sessions, it was developed for, and is most effective when utilized in 90-minute therapy sessions.
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