Getting Past Your Past With EMDR

Mount Tamalpais, CA

Mount Tamalpais, CA

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

The human body possesses an enormous, astonishing, and persistent capacity to heal itself. When you cut your hand, this process will automatically kick into gear. Just as the body is not able to heal a wound when there is debris in it, the brain often cannot process a disturbing experience and becomes like a blocked wound. In order for it to heal, we must clean it so the body can do its job.

EMDR unlocks what is natural within each of us. It is our innate healing process that has been blocked and can be unblocked with EMDR. There is an inherent wisdom within each person that is already whole, it is just obscured by negative images, feelings, and beliefs. Our job as therapists is to help clear the blockages so that our clients can have access to their natural states of well-being and emotional balance. 

Major traumas, such as war, assaults, rape, abuse, natural disasters, accidents, and loss can understandably cause disruption and blockages. However, a person does not have to undergo an overtly distressing event for it to affect them. An accumulation of smaller “everyday” or less pronounced events can still be traumatic: conflict in relationships, insecurities, humiliations at a tender age, work dissatisfaction, having a child, financial difficulties, racial / sexual discrimination, verbal abuse, social media, that "look" your Dad gives you. In addition to specific upsetting memories, EMDR can help you overcome persistent negative beliefs like, "I don't belong," "I have to be perfect," or "I'm worthless." 

In EMDR, we activate the brain processing  systems by asking you to focus on a "target" related to the trauma, such as a memory with the image, emotions, body sensations, and negative beliefs associated with it. Through this target we are attempting to stimulate the memory network where the trauma is stored. After stimulating the memory network, we add alternating eye movements ("follow my fingers with your eyes to the left, right, left, right") or other bilateral stimulation (gently tapping on your right knee, left knee, right knee, left knee ; listening to a sound in your right ear, left ear, right ear, left ear). Bilateral stimulation activates accelerated information processing, a multidimensional free association of thoughts, feelings, and sensations that enables you to tap into insight and understanding in a previously inaccessible way. Forgotten memories, fragments of images, beliefs, seemingly random connections, body sensations pass through rapidly. Everyone has his or her own unique processing style. 

Each set further unlocks and unblocks distressing information and accelerates it along a path toward natural healing. The emotional charge is reduced or eliminated and there is an objective understanding of the event: "It's over," "This happened to me and it wasn't my fault," "Now it feels like I'm reading about it in a newspaper." EMDR helps get you in touch with a felt sense of freedom and truth. 

How does it work?

In truth, no one knows how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically or in the brain. EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. The process of bilateral stimulation is similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. It is during REM sleep, which is characterized by "rapid, jerky, and binocularly symmetrical eye movements," that the brain's memory systems are programmed. We can't possibly store all of the information we receive in a day, so REM discards, filters, and files data into our memory banks. Therefore, when we re-enact this process with bilateral stimulation, we are going directly to the source. 

EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment. Bilateral stimulation is used during one part of the treatment. The therapy involves attention to three time periods:  the past, present, and future. Focus is given to past disturbing memories and related events. Also, it is given to current situations that cause distress, and to developing the skills and attitudes needed for positive future actions.

The Proof?

Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years. More than thirty positive controlled outcome studies have been conducted on EMDR therapy. Some of the studies show that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute sessions. Another study, funded by the HMO Kaiser Permanente, found that 100% of the single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer were diagnosed with PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions. In another study, 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in 12 sessions.

There has been so much research on EMDR therapy that it is now recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Over 100,000 clinicians throughout the world use the therapy.  Millions of people have been treated successfully over the past 25 years.

Please get in touch if you're interested in giving it a try!

EMDR Institute
Getting Past Your Past by Francine Shapiro
Tapping In by Laurel Parnell