EMDR helps process painful memories

EMDR helps process painful memories

EMDR is a powerful therapeutic tool that helps clients process trauma and live a life less disrupted by fight or flight.You may have heard of EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, or have seen this therapy depicted in the media. Interest, research and exposure to EMDR continues to grow as more therapists are trained to provide this effective trauma therapy.

Some examples of how it can help:

• EMDR can improve current relationships, as one client learned, after processing memories of a painful childhood.

• Another client experienced less anxiety after using EMDR to process memories of being bullied.

• The memory of a car accident was a problem that a client was able to process. After EMDR, they were able to travel in a car without fear or anxiety.

One aspect of EMDR that I appreciate is that this therapy does not require someone to narrate their trauma experiences in detail. Instead, the focus is on moving through the memory toward healing and recovery in a way that provides relief.  Once the EMDR script is established, the process works the same each time (using specific target memories), which can reduce some anxiety related to the process. The greatest benefit I appreciate about EMDR is that the therapy works in the brain to heal itself.

Its beginnings

EMDR was developed in 1987 after psychologist Francine Shapiro noticed that her distress in thinking about painful memories was significantly relieved when paired with rapid eye movements. She then spent years developing the treatment and process.

An evidence-based psychotherapy, it uses the brain’s natural ability to recover, with therapist-directed lateral eye movements, hand tapping, or audio stimulation to facilitate this process. EMDR helps to process memories from the overwhelming part of our brain to the cognitive part of our brain. In this way, we move out of fight, flight or freeze and into a less stressful way of remembering the trauma.

There has been a lot of positive research showing EMDR to be effective in treating PTSD and trauma symptoms, as well as treatment of anxiety, panic disorders, depression. EMDR is practiced only by therapists who undergo specialized training.

What does an EMDR session look like?

Some of the preparation to begin an EMDR course of treatment resembles a psychotherapy session. The therapist will gather information about the participant’s past experiences and will help to identify coping skills for use in the session or after the session as needed. During the active phase of EMDR, the therapist and participant will use a scripted process to move through targeted memories, using either eye movements or tapping as bi-lateral stimulation until the target memory no longer produces a distress response.  During the end of session, the participant will identify a positive belief that they incorporate into future healing and recovery. If this is hard to imagine, I encourage you to watch this video showing an EMDR session in progress.

One of the most recognizable tools in EMDR is a light bar, which allows participants to follow a light from side to side.  However, any method of bi-lateral movement can be effective in the process of processing memories. In my own EMDR practice I use both therapist-directed eye movements or TheraTappers (hand-held devices that move a pulse from hand to hand, see photo), depending on the participant’s preference.

If you would like more information about EMDR, here are two websites with lots of good information:
EMDR International Association
EMDR Institute

Melody McArthur, MA, LCP, is a Licensed Professional Counselor. She has a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. You can contact Melody at 314-309-9515 or melody@treeoflifecounseling-stl.com.

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