hen you are physically hurt, the cells of your body work to repair the wound. But what happens when you’re emotionally or psychologically harmed? Just as with physical damage, if you continue to injure the psyche, you’re going to prevent healing. If your system is blocked by the influence of a distressing experience, your emotional wound can’t heal, and you remain in a state of suffering. EMDR therapy can help.
What Is EMDR Therapy and How Does It Work?
EMDR is short for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. During EMDR therapy, a psychotherapist guides you to revisit painful memories while your therapist directs your eye movements.
This may seem strange or bizarre. Why would moving your eyes while recalling a distressing event help you heal? Actually, diverting your attention while you’re evoking painful memories allows you to bring them up without being overtaken by an emotional or psychological reaction.
If you’ve ever been plagued by agonizing memories, you know that they may dissipate as you continue to recall them. Time heals all wounds.
But for some people, time doesn’t work in this way. You might have trouble reconsolidating your memories in a way that allows them to weaken and bring you peace. Instead, you feel as though you’re back in the moment of the distressing event every time the memory comes back to haunt you.
You want to choose a new mindset, but you can’t. No matter how much positive thinking you do, you can’t shake the feelings that arise when you’re confronted with your distressing memories. Sometimes, you don’t even realize that you’re reacting to a specific memory at all. You may have unexplained panic attacks or be unable to pull yourself out of a depression that lasts for months.
Suppressed memories may be affecting your unconscious in ways that you’re not aware of. You may have conscious memories that are keeping you blocked from reaching your full potential.
During EMDR therapy, you’ll be guided to relive distressing memories. That may seem like a frightening prospect. But, if you have an established rapport of trust and respect with your therapist, the experience can be freeing.
Balance and equilibrium are important as you undergo EMDR therapy. Your therapist will help you develop techniques to calm the stress and powerful emotions that come up during your sessions.
What Does EMDR Therapy Entail?
EMDR therapy involves any type of bilateral stimulation. That means that two sides of your body will be activated in some way as you bring up visuals and emotions that are related to your experience.
You might be asked to follow an object or light with both eyes. Some therapists have their clients hold paddles, which buzz in both hands. You may listen to musical tones through headphones.
After each series of stimulating activities, you will be asked to notice the thoughts, emotions and feelings that arise. You may also be asked to redirect your mind toward a positive framework. If you experiences distress, the therapist will guide you back to your center using calming techniques.
As you go through EMDR, your brain learns to associate the distressing memories with new data. You create new neural networks, which allow you to adapt to stress instead of getting stuck in it.
EMDR doesn’t end with each therapy session. You’ll talk to your therapist about ways to manage your emotions in between sessions. The techniques that you learn can be introduced in any situation during which you feel overwhelmed by powerful emotions.
EMDR Therapy for Trauma and PTSD
EMDR is beneficial for anyone who has experienced a trauma. In fact, EMDR therapy was initially developed to help people with trauma and PTSD.
Memories are constantly changing. Every time you recall a memory, you change it based on new information that you have gathered since the experience occurred. This is how most people adapt to distressing situations and explains why time makes you feel better.
But if you’re someone with trauma and PTSD you probably reconsolidate your memories differently than other people. You may not be able to separate the distress from the memories. Because you may physically or emotionally relive the event, your body may send you into a panic attack or fight-or-flight response, which could make you feel as though you’re reliving the trauma.
The left side of the brain processes emotions differently than the right side of the brain. The right hemisphere is responsible for many of your negative perceptions. The left hemisphere processes positive emotions.
When your neural networks communicate between the hemispheres, you’re able to process negative events using words, self-control, and other techniques. However, traumatic stress can change the way the brain functions to store and reconsolidate memories. Using bilateral stimulation through EMDR can help reconnect the neural networks so that you can heal.
EMDR Therapy for Depression and Anxiety
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Even if you haven’t experienced a major trauma, you might be struggling because you have faced subtle and repeated traumas. Rejection, abandonment, and shame can fester, developing into depression and anxiety.
EMDR has been found to be helpful for processing past experiences that could contribute to your depression and anxiety. EMDR can help you improve your personal beliefs, transforming a limiting and negative worldview into a more positive one.
EMDR can also give you a new perspective on the cause of your emotional distress. Being able to make new connections can open you up to a greater capacity for healing.
Studies have found that EMDR is effective for helping people with bipolar disorder, anxiety, panic disorder, depression, substance abuse disorder, and even chronic pain cope with symptoms of trauma.
As you face your fears and process intense emotions in this safe space through EMDR, you begin to shed light on your symptoms, and you may find peace as a result.
How is EMDR Different Than Other Types of Therapy?
Many people are under the impression that their psychological issues will take a long time to heal. In fact, some believe that they will have to live with the pain for the rest of their lives as long as they figure out some coping mechanisms.
But EMDR works relatively quickly. It addresses the core of the problem instead of simply managing symptoms. By uncovering trapped memories, you process emotions in a safe, healthy manner.
You can’t wipe out your past experiences. However, you can reprogram your brain to handle your memories and emotions in a different way.
EMDR requires you to have an open and trusting relationship with your therapist. Therefore, it can’t be conducted in a vacuum. Most people go through talk therapy and other therapeutic approaches so that they can understand and process the emotions and outcomes that come up through EMDR.
Although EMDR is a relatively new therapeutic technique, it has been demonstrated to produce effective results in many studies. At The Beverly Hills Therapy Group, we offer EMDR as one approach, among many, for treating patients with a variety of mental health disorders. We understand that unlocking your full potential involves experiencing your feelings and learning to process them in a constructive way.
After undergoing EMDR, you may feel more self-confident and expressive. You’ll likely be able to cope with stress better and keep your creative juices flowing because you’re no longer trapped by your own emotions. Contact us to find out if EMDR is right for you.
Ron N. Gad, PhDFounder
Ron N. Gad, PhD is the founder of Beverly Hills Therapy Group in California. Dr. Gad holds a PhD in clinical psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute. Along with his staff of licensed therapist, Beverly Hills Therapy Group provides mental health services for many disorders including anxiety, trauma, depression, and several others.