WHAT IS EMDR
EMDR is a therapy modality that has been recognized by the American Psychiatric Association to effectively treat PTSD. Today with advanced research and the contributions of therapists and researchers all over the world, it is considered to be a breakthrough therapy technique for resolving symptoms resulting from a broad range of emotional and physical conditions such as depression, anxiety, addiction and phobias in addition to traumatic experiences.
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. It uses a structured approach of bilateral stimulation to address past, present and future aspects of disturbing memories. You are always conscious and in complete control of the sessions. It s not necessary to disclose details or discuss events that cause discomfort; it is only necessary that you recall those events in your mind to access the emotions they create. The result is two-fold: first, thinking of the disturbing event is no longer bothersome; and second, the irrational belief is no longer felt to be true. Once one believes and feels they are lovable, worthwhile, deserving, significant, empowered, safe, etc., the anxieties and depression lift.
HOW DOES IT WORK
When a disturbing event happens, that event does not get effectively processed. Rather, that event becomes trapped and frozen in the brain and in our nervous system. Therefore, the past memory of that event continues to get trapped in the present erupting the same feelings, emotions and irrational beliefs that were associated with the event.
For example, suppose you were a child of a divorce living with your mother and you had exciting plans for the day you were to be with your father. You recall how you were waiting by the door, ready to go, in anticipation only to learn that your father is not going to come. As a child, you do not rationally and maturely consider the reasons – all you know is that someone special did not show up for you and you feel you are not important to them, definitely not a priority and that perhaps you DON’T MATTER at all.
Now in adulthood your spouse minimizes a birthday or your boss overlooks your efforts. That old message – that seed planted in childhood – is trapped and those irrational beliefs of “I DON’T MATTER” are once again triggered along with all of the feelings and emotions of that childhood event, often making it difficult to function or cope with the world around you.
While EMDR cannot erase memories, it can facilitate a reprocessing of the disturbing memory so that you can recall the event without discomfort (a heaving chest, a knot in your stomach, a tear in your eye) and without pulling up that deeply held belief, “I DON’T MATTER.” Your father canceling a plan will no longer be a reflection of you and who you are as a person. Your boss overlooking your efforts will simply appear to be his wrongdoing. In other words, your past pain will be resolved and cease to negatively impact your present, leaving freedom to live better now and in the future.
After only two EMDR sessions, this client was surprised to experience how “easy” and quickly he could resolve the feelings of vulnerability of not being able to fight back.
EMDR assisted wife in alleviating the intrusive thoughts about her husband’s affair and resolving the feeling of “being less than…”
After two sessions of EMDR, the client reported no return of a nightmare he has experienced since childhood.
Fear of Flying
Intense fear of flying jeopardized her relationship with a husband who loved to travel. After EMDR, the client is not only able to travel but is excited about the plans she and her husband have to fulfill her dream of visiting Ireland.
With three months of EMDR, this client was able to recall the physical childhood abuse by her mother without feeling the anger she has carried for decades. The client is now able to have a relationship with her mother because she “chooses to do so.”
A client was anxious and scared about an upcoming surgery on her hand, fearing anesthesia, loss of her hand and everything going wrong. At the end of just one EMDR session, she was seeing humor in her fears and made it through surgery without incident and minimal anxiety.
A client had to care for a dying parent while having unresolved feelings of fear and anger as a result of a traumatic childhood that continued into adulthood. In two sessions the client reported that she was able to be more present and caring toward the parent and was even able to hold the parent’s hand as she passed away. She was also able to actually mourn her loss without interference of pain, anger and fear.
After EMDR therapy to resolve three traumatic life events, a client was able to make plans to host a holiday dinner for the first time in years without the recurrence of suicidal and clinical depression. As an additional result of EMDR, her psychiatrist of six years encouraged a decrease in her medications. She also reports that her fingernails have returned to normal (anxiety had caused dents and ridges).
A client who was highly anxious over an upcoming job interview reported that after one EMDR session, not only was she free of anxiety, but also even got lost in route and still didn’t worry.
A client and coworkers were held up at gunpoint, experienced physical aggression and had their lives threatened. After six EMDR sessions, the client was able to return to work, finally sleep with the lights off and interact outside of the home with a greatly reduced fear of being in public amongst strangers.
A client reported that after five EMDR sessions he no longer saw the image of his child, positioned on the couch having committed suicide, as horrific. While he could do nothing but focus on the horror of that memory before, he now reports that happy memories are overtaking that image. At the fifth session he reported that he had not cried in three weeks.
Crying all of the time
A significantly depressed client cried throughout her first few sessions and reported that she cried in every session with other therapists. After EMDR resolved past experiences, the client stopped crying and began to express a broader range of emotions. She also reported that she began to clean her room again, desire a social life and was able to identify accomplishments and talents.
A client had been carrying around shame and guilt for 30 years after witnessing a crime without taking action. After three EMDR sessions, the client was no longer able to access the memory with great detail and stopped having the flashbacks he had experienced for the past twenty years. He embraced the fact that he was young and any action he took could have been life threatening to him.
A client had a job interview that entailed presenting herself in front of a panel. Her EMDR session focused on her ability to present herself clearly, competently and as she wanted to be perceived. She won the job over two other highly qualified candidates. And, the client (who is a perfectionist) reports she is now feeling comfortable and confident doing the best she can do without needing to be perfect.
We all have unique experiences that impact our lives. These experiences are like pieces of a puzzle. Some pieces fit together effortlessly, integrating to contribute value to the whole. Some pieces may be missing leaving the whole incomplete, while others, though we know they are part of the whole, don’t seem to fit at all. The pieces that fit together represent the life experiences that we learn from, add value and allow us to experience success. However, the problematic pieces interfere with how we feel about ourselves and how we interact with the world. These pieces represent trauma, they are obstacles that keep us stuck, overwhelmed, anxious and sad.
Trauma can be any unresolved issue from your life experiences. Unresolved means you are not “over it!” When you think of a past event that is bothersome, you can still feel its impact; eyes well with tears, stomach tightens, you feel anger, fear or sadness. These emotional and physical reactions are telling you that a puzzle piece is not integrated, that an issue is unresolved and active.
EMDR can help to resolve these issues and the meanings they hold for you. EMDR allows that puzzle piece to fall into place and contribute to the whole to create a coherent and complete picture – a complete you!
Each person brings to a relationship unique qualities, personality and history. These differences can be complimentary and endearing. But each person also brings unique interpretations and opinions about these differences. And in times of difficulty, this can contribute to the disintegration of communication and compassion.
When the person you have chosen to share your life with is no longer perceived as a supportive partner, one can experience hurt, anger, and resentment; there may be a tendency to look outside of the relationship to fill the empty space or become resigned. The differences that once were appreciated and seen as unique qualities are now a source of conflict as the relationship goes adrift.
Couples counseling can help you navigate these changes – to get back on the same side of the fence, communicate in a way that is effective and helpful, negotiate differences, resolve problems and even argue without attacking and hurting each other.
Counseling can help when:
…Arguments are never ending
Are you fighting all the time and these days it feels like every discussion is a conflict? Do these arguments come up again and again without resolution and each of you never feel heard or understood by the other?
…The best solution is not talking at all
Have these arguments resulted in avoidance? Do you feel you cannot win and there is no point in engaging this discussion, AGAIN? Have you lost the energy and motivation to try to work it out?
…Even together, you feel alone
Have you stopped enjoying each other’s company? Do you feel alone in your relationship? Are you now “just” roommates? Is every encounter met with frustration and sadness?
…Your giving more than you’re getting
Do you feel your spouse doesn’t appreciate you or recognize the efforts you put into making things better? Is your “tank” empty from unmet needs and now you can’t meet your spouses needs or your own?
…Infidelity breaks all trust
Has there been an affair and now the idea of being happily married again seems impossible? Are you asking, “Can we survive this? Or how do I know it won’t happen again?”
Why Talk Therapies Do Not Always Work
Today we know more and are continuing to learn about the brain and why some experiences become ‘stuck’ and continue to trigger us in current day living. Studies conducted by top trauma researchers, psychologists and psychiatrists show why traditional talk therapies are ineffective in resolving trauma, which is defined, not only by catastrophic and life altering events, but also the humiliations and personal upsets that impact how we feel about ourselves, others and our self-confidence.
In short, traumatic memories stay stuck in regions of the brain that are nonverbal, non-conscious and subcortical. They are not accessible to the conscious, understanding, thinking, nor reasoning parts of the brain. This brief explanation provides the justification for why we continue to feel anger, sadness, guilt, shame, resentment, discomfort when thinking about a past experience. Furthermore, it provides the reason for why, when those feelings are triggered in a current situation the eyes well with tears, the stomach tightens or the shoulders tense and the belief “I am defective, I can’t trust, I am not good enough, I can’t succeed, I am worthless, I am powerless”, etc. continue to be felt and impact our self-confidence, our relationships with others, our ability to perform in the world. Talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapies rely on that conscious, reasoning part of brain to gain insight, consider alternative perspectives and learn new coping strategies to better manage feelings, negative thoughts and anxieties. Because these therapies are not able to access underlying feelings, thoughts, issues that are not immediately in your conscious awareness and therefore, are not effective in changing those feelings and beliefs no matter how much one “deals with” or understands what happened to create them.
For more information, if interested, I recommend the books The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D. and Trauma and Memory, by Peter Levine, Ph.D.