EMDR Therapy and Trauma: What makes it so effective?

Updated: Nov 29, 2019



EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Therapy is one of the top clinical modalities used to treat trauma. This is why I have chosen to incorporate it in my work with trauma survivors. However, the name alone can be pretty intimidating what with it's long scientific-sounding acronym. This blog post is going to help break down what it is in a simple way that makes it helpful to understand and consider if you might be a good candidate for this type of therapy.

First of all, it works. According the EMDR International Association, research has demonstrated it's effectiveness with people who have trauma history and supported use of it. Why is is effective? Well, it's important to note that it's a brain-based model of therapy. You might be thinking, "Okay, brain-based model. What does that even mean?" What it means is that the interventions used to help clients have be developed by taking into account the way the brain actually functions. In the case of EMDR and trauma, it recognizes that trauma memories are stored differently than other memories and accounts for this by uses strategies aimed to work around or rather with that.

Secondly, without getting too much into detail, know that the tools used in this therapy will help to lower the intensity or eliminate trauma symptoms (anxiety, racing thoughts,nightmares, flashbacks, etc.). Hence, the keyword in EMDR being 'desensitization.' What does this mean? This means that when your faced with something in your current life that may trigger a reminder of the past trauma, you won't feel those same overwhelming feelings as if you were there. You'll be able to move through it and more importantly, move on.

A lot of folks are often intrigued by the eye movement piece. This is where it could get a little hard to explain but essentially, a therapist might have a client follow their fingers back and forth in front of them or use other forms of bilateral stimulation (i.e. tapping, lightbar, etc.) to open up that memory network and get the information flowing. The idea is that when we experience a trauma, the information gets locked in the brain unable to complete it's natural cycle to be integrated into our memory in an adaptive way. EMDR helps to stimulate this process similar to that of REM sleep so that when something occurs that may remind us of this, our brain and body will respond knowing it's in the past, rather than reacting as if the past is a present threat. Through this process, clients are able to shift their core beliefs about themselves and/or the world that often limit the quality of their lives and perpetuate PTSD symptoms.

Some common negative beliefs are:

I'm unsafe

I'm unloveable

I failed

Positve beliefs include:

I'm safe

I'm loveable

I did my best

To learn more about EMDR Therapy you can visit the International website at EMDRIA.org.

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