Carol Boulware, Ph.D. explains EMDR therapy in an article on 4therapy.com:
WHAT IS EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a powerful new psychotherapy technique which has been very successful in helping people who suffer from trauma, anxiety, panic, disturbing memories, post traumatic stress and many other emotional problems. Until recently, these conditions were difficult and time-consuming to treat. EMDR is considered a breakthrough therapy because of its simplicity and the fact that it can bring quick and lasting relief for most types of emotional distress.
The EMDR technique uses a natural function of the body, rapid eye movement, or REM, as its basis. The human mind uses REM during sleep time to help it process daily emotional experiences. When trauma is extreme, this process breaks down and REM sleep doesn't bring the usual relief from distress. This is where EMDR comes in. EMDR is the next step or, you might say, an advanced stage of the REM processing.
As troubling images and feelings are processed by the brain via the eye movement patterns of EMDR, resolution of the issues and a more peaceful state are soon at hand.
HOW DOES EMDR WORK?
When disturbing experiences happen, they are stored in the brain with all the sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings that accompany them. When a person is very upset, the brain seems to be unable to process the experience as it would normally. Therefore, the negative thoughts and feelings of the traumatic event get "trapped" in the nervous system. Since the brain cannot process these emotions, the experience and/or their accompanying feelings, are often suppressed from consciousness. However, the distress lives on in the nervous system where it causes disturbances in the normal emotional functioning of the person.
The EMDR Technique does two very important things. First, it "unlocks" the negative memories and emotions stored in the nervous system, and second, it helps the brain successfully process the experience.
The therapist works gently with the client, guiding him or her to revisit the traumatic incident. As images and feelings arise, the client's eye movements are "matched" with the remembered events and then re-directed into particular movements that cause the release of the memories.
When the memory is brought to mind, the feelings are re-experienced in a new way. EMDR makes it possible to gain the self-knowledge and perspective that will enable the client to choose their actions, rather than feeling powerless over their re-actions. This process can be a complex if there are many experiences connected to the negative feelings. The EMDR therapy sessions continue until the traumatic memories and emotions are relieved.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF EMDR THERAPY?
Research studies show that EMDR is very effective in helping people process emotionally painful and traumatic experiences. When used in conjunction with other therapy modalities, EMDR helps move the client quickly from emotional distress to peaceful resolution of the issues or events involved.
EMDR sessions work amazingly fast. Processing even the most difficult memories can be achieved in a fraction of the time it previously would have taken with traditional therapy alone. It also enables the more efficient use of conventional psychotherapies, bringing greater results in much less time. The positive, long-term results of EMDR therapy affects all levels of the client's well-being -- mental, emotional and physical, so that their responses return to normalcy and health.
Traditional therapies often focus on memories from the unconscious mind, and then analyzing their meaning to gain insight into the problem. EMDR clients also acquire valuable insights during therapy, but EMDR can short-cut the process and go right to the releasing stage.
Studies consistently show that treatments with EMDR result in elimination of the targeted emotion or memory. The memory remains, but the negative response is neutralized.
SOME OBJECTIVES OF EMDR THERAPY:
Thanks to the on-going success of EMDR therapy for hundreds of thousands of people, it is not difficult to have high expectations for a therapy program that includes the EMDR technique. The short-term benefits of EMDR is simple and straightforward--the immediate relief of emotional distress and the elimination of the debilitating effect of unresolved past trauma. Longer-term benefits of EMDR therapy include the restoration of each client's natural state of emotional functioning. This return to normalcy brings with it a greater sense of personal power, more rewarding relationships and a more peaceful life.
These are some of my objectives as I work with my clients and EMDR.
I started EMDR therapy in February of 2008, because of the trauma I had experienced during the birth of my son in 1999. It has worked wonders for me. The experience had moved into “normal memory,” and I now have no stress when I think about what happened.
During my EMDR sessions, my therapist uses a small machine that has two little paddles, I hold one in each had, and they vibrate alternatingly. This facilitates the REM function for me. I do this throughout the entire session.
The first session we had, involving my birth experience, was distressing. I held the paddles and went over the memory of the moment when I thought I was going to die over and over again in my mind.
Remembering that was very hard. It was difficult to do because it was like going through it all over again… remembering the sights, the smells, the sounds, the feelings, the thoughts, etc. When the session ended, I was stressed. My therapist helped me with a relaxation exercise before I left, which helped relieve the anxiety.
The second session was much different. My therapist suggested trying to think of something that would help my distress with that memory. I began going over the moment in my mind… I was lying on the operating table, and I couldn’t breathe. Then all of a sudden, I imagined myself today being present with myself then, so there was two of me: the past self and the present self.
The present self knows that I did not die, and that everything was going to be okay eventually. The past self did not know that. So I imagined my present self comforting my past self, stroking her hair, and telling her that everything was going to be alright. I just started to cry. It was such a comforting thought. I spent a good ten minutes just dwelling on that because it was so soothing. My therapist was very pleased with my creativity and the progress I made in just a few minutes.
Then my therapist brought up the fact that I didn’t get to hold him until after I woke up. I told her how empty I felt after he was born. I went to sleep pregnant and woke up not pregnant. I just kept thinking, “Where is my baby? He’s gone.” I wanted him back inside me, but he was right there in my arms, I just couldn’t make the connection. I felt ripped off and so incredibly empty.
She suggested that I imagine myself in the operating room again and having the doctor give the baby to my present self. So, I imagined my present self watching my son being born, then the nurses wrapping him in a blanket and handing him to me. I began to cry again. I never had that feeling of joy, it had been stolen from me, but I was able to reclaim it for myself. I kept imagining my present self holding my newborn son and crying, and I let myself heal.
Then, in my mind, I brought my present self and my past self back together at the moment when I woke up in the recovery room, when I got to hold him for real… Oh my, what closure. The tears I cried that session were tears of healing, joy, and release. I never realized how wonderful healing could be. I can truly say that I have brought joy to the memory of my son’s birth that was never there before.
I would recommend EMDR to anyone who has experienced trauma.
© Copyright 2016 Jodi Sabo
- Boulware, Carol, PhD. EMDR--Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing--Therapy. http://www.4therapy.com/consumer/about_therapy/item.php?uniqueid=7035&categoryid=401. 2008.
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