What Is EMDR & Why Does It Work?

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Most of the clinicians at Creekside Collaborative Therapy are trained in a very effective intervention that helps clients to heal from trauma.  Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing has been around since the 1980's and is becoming increasingly recognized as the treatment modality of choice for various mental health and trauma-related issues.   What is EMDR? EMDR is a revolutionary new therapy that has helped millions let go of painful experiences, memories, or beliefs. By utilizing the brain’s natural healing processes, EMDR therapy quickly heals many emotional problems and conditions which have been difficult and time consuming to treat in the past.   How does EMDR work? In spite of medical advances, some mechanisms of the brain remain a mystery. However, the amazing outcomes of EMDR treatment can be theoretically explained. Bilateral stimulation (which is explained in the next section) activates the opposite sides of the brain allowing the brain to release and redefine emotional experiences that are "trapped" within the brain. This type of stimulation resembles REM (rapid eye movement) sleep as our eyes move from one side to the other. It is during sleep that the brain naturally sorts out our experiences from the day, discarding useless information and transferring memories appropriately. However, sometimes extremely negative experiences can get “trapped” or “frozen” in the brain and they are unable to resolve naturally which may result in nightmares, depression, anger, anxiety, or emotional disturbance. Along with this “trapped” negative experience is the negative emotion, sensory information, and initial interpretation of the experience. Even though these negative emotions, memories or beliefs are “locked away,” they can still affect us greatly and are often triggered by various sensory input (sight, smell, touch, taste, or hearing). We may see something, pick up a certain scent, or be spoken to a particular way and that memory or feeling is triggered, often without any understanding of why. When a negative memory is triggered, the neurological response is protection and the result is a state of hyper-arousal commonly referred to as flight or fight. Stress hormones are released into the body and we find ourselves saying things without thinking, or doing things that seem out of character. Most importantly, the initial and untrue negative beliefs about oneself are reinforced.   What is bilateral stimulation?   In order for EMDR to work some form of bilateral stimulation must be used. If you and your therapist choose to use eye movements, your therapist will have you move your eyes back and forth by asking you to follow his or her fingers. A special devise called a Tac/Audio Scan may be used instead. This devise provides either auditory input (using headphones to hear alternating beeping from one ear to the other) or tactile input (a buzzer is held in each hand and the buzzing alternates back and forth).   Is EMDR a form of hypnosis?   No. You are in complete control during the EMDR session.   What happens during an EMDR session?   Before the actual processing of events occurs, it is important that you have the coping skills and support that you need so that you leave the session feeling calm. A plan may be created to help you to continue to feel calm after the session. In addition, your therapist will work with you to create internal “resources” that will be used at the end of the session. This may include imagining a “calm and safe” place, thinking about a supportive person in your life or visualizing placing what you worked on in a container.   Once you and your therapist are confident that you have the skills and support to begin EMDR, you will create a “targeting sequence plan” in order to figure out what you will work on. You will then work with your therapist to come up with an image that represents your “target” along with related beliefs, feelings and body sensations. Your therapist will ask you to rate a couple of things before the processing begins in order to assess when you have worked through that particular issue.   After that, your therapist will use whatever form of bilateral stimulation you have chosen in order for you to complete consecutive “sets” of processing. During each set you will allow your brain to do whatever it needs to do to work through the particular issue. You may see images that represent things that have occurred or not occurred in your life, feel body sensations or experience various thoughts or feelings. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to do EMDR. Your brain does what it needs to do to heal. Each set is approximately 30-45 seconds long. After each set, your therapist will ask you what you noticed. After reporting what happened, you will begin the next set. For the most part, your therapist will not talk to you while you are doing your sets. In addition, he or she will not provide feedback related to what happened after you report what you noticed. It is your brain that does all of the work. Since you are in complete control, you will come up with a signal if you need to stop before your therapist ends the set.   What will I experience after an EMDR session?   While it often takes more than one session to work through a particular issue, you should notice some improvement in how you feel after each session.   Because of how hard your brain is working, you may feel sleepy afterwards. Some people report having vivid dreams for a few days. This is because your brain continues to process what you have worked on while you are sleeping.   Feel free to contact us at Creekside Collaborarive Therapy for more information or to set up an appointment with a therapist to see if EMDR may be helpful for you.  
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