If you have gone anywhere near the world of therapy, odds are you have probably heard of the acronym “EMDR.” EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is often referred to as the “follow my fingers” therapy where the client watches the therapist’s fingers move back and forth, and miraculously the client’s trauma disappears. After undergoing intensive training in the therapeutic modality, including having to undergo EMDR treatment myself, I am here to say that it is actually so much more.
Before we get into EMDR, I feel it is necessary to understand trauma and how it is downloaded into our brains and bodies. Most traumatic memories are stored in the memory centers of our temporal lobe in the right side of the brain, which deals with visual memory, language comprehension, and emotion association. Traumatic memories are often stored as flash memories so when the memory is recalled, the client can only visualize the traumatic part, perhaps uncontrollably relive the emotions from that event, and have a difficult time comprehending the meaning or assigning language and words to what happened. The goal of most trauma therapies is to neutralize the trauma which is exactly what EMDR does.
When a client is in an EMDR session, on the outside it may look rather uneventful, however, what is happening in the brain and body is what is exciting and Bilateral Stimulation is key. When a client is asked to engage in Bilateral Stimulation, such as tapping their hands, moving their eyes, art-making, or even walking, this movement stimulates both the right and left sides of the brain hemispheres. When both sides are stimulated this allows information to cross over through the corpus callosum or the part of the brain that physically connects the two sides. On the left side of the brain lives our Broca’s area which primarily deals with speech. Once information is crossed over, into the Broca’s area, clients are then able to verbally process their trauma and therefore shift the traumatic memory into a “neutral” memory. Clients often report after a few EMDR sessions that they no longer experience physical sensations or heightened emotions when triggered or remembering the traumatic event, making them able to freely live their lives unaffected by the past.
Many people seek out EMDR for different reasons with the common theme being to address trauma. For some who have been in long-term talk therapy, they may find that they are coming to a stuck point in their healing journey. Perhaps the same themes or situations are discussed every session with little progress or change. For others, they may be experiencing extreme flashbacks or intense emotions making it difficult to stay present and plan for their future. Some people seek out an EMDR clinician and have yet to actually engage in the EMDR process because establishing safety in the therapeutic relationship is more important for that particular person’s traumatized system. If any of the above sounds like you, you may want to consider EMDR treatment.
Many therapists who are trained in EMDR often combine other modalities to ensure each individual client is receiving personalized care. With my background in trauma-focused art therapy, sand tray therapy, and play therapy, an EMDR session with me may allow you to go even deeper and not just neutralize the traumatic event, but completely process it out, should you choose to do so. Art making, whether it is painting, stitching, ceramics, or scribbling is already a bilateral process. Additionally, working with an art therapist who understands art materials and how your particular system reacts to different materials, can enhance your treatment.
For example, if I know a client’s trauma pattern is rigid, meaning they find security in rituals, lists, schedules, and right and wrong thinking, at the beginning of the treatment I may have them use more rigid materials such as markers or pens while engaging in bilateral stimulation. This makes the client feel safe to continue processing because the rigidity of the material is comfortable and familiar. Gradually, I may introduce a more fluid or messy material, such as oil pastels, and then once comfort is achieved with that materials, introduce an even more fluid material such as watercolor. As the rigidity caused by the trauma is processed in the brain, the client’s body also processes the rigidity through the sensory integration of the art materials.
EMDR is not just for adults either, children and teens can benefit from the modality as well and it actually seems that children and teens process trauma more efficiently than adults. Children and teens already do a lot of nonverbal processing in their lives, such as art-making and imaginary play, making EMDR natural for them. EMDR also offers a future protocol which I have found to be highly effective for most of my teen clients. So many teens, especially right now, have voiced that they do not feel the age they actually are due to the pause in their lives caused by COVID-19. Many seniors have not physically been to high school since their sophomore year and do not feel that they are ready for college, making anxiety regarding the future at the forefront. EMDR’s future protocol does a tremendous job of neutralizing catastrophic thinking about the future, helping our teens stay present and enjoy this time in their lives.
So let me ask you, what is the most beautiful, glorious, amazing life you can imagine for yourself? Are you living it? Or, do you feel that past events you had no control over are still affecting you and shaping your future in ways you wish they weren’t? Do you see your child constantly worrying about their future? Has your family experienced major trauma and you are ready to heal? If you answered yes, EMDR may be the treatment for you. If you are interested in setting up an intake, you can find my information here (inset link to contact info). I look forward to being your guide!