When a disturbing experience happens, memories are stored in the brain with sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings. Through upsetting or traumatizing experiences, the brain seems to be unable to process the happening as it does normally. Rather, the event seems to become frozen in time and remembering it feels as bad as the initial experience. These memories may have a negative lasting effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way they function and relate to others.
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) is a way to access and affect the way that the brain processes information. The technique unlocks the negative memories and emotions stored in the nervous system and it helps the brain to successfully process the experience.
EMDR therapy uses bilateral stimulation (visual, auditory or tactile stimuli occurring rhythmically) that releases emotional experiences that are trapped in the nervous system. The stimulation may be:
- Right to left eye movement (similar to what happens in REM sleep where processing occurs)
- Tactile or sound stimulation which moves from right to left and activates the opposite sides of the brain
The system functions to take disturbing events and make appropriate connections that
During the bilateral stimulation – sets of eye movements or tapping or sounds, the brain makes associations and neural connections needed to integrate or process the disturbing memory and allow a return of emotional balance. Essentially, our brains use and incorporate what is useful and discards what is not helpful. For instance, a victim of abuse going into EMDR therapy may begin with the belief that they are in danger and helpless. At the end of the treatment, they may say, “I am alive, strong and resilient.” The memory of the incident is still there but it does not have the same effect as before.
In between eye movements sets, clients are asked “what did you notice” or “what did you get now.” What comes up for the client may sound like random disconnections, but as the processing continues the clinician can witness first-hand the connections and associations that have caused the client’s problems. The adaptive information processing part of the brain is able to link and process information toward resolution with the clinician’s guidance.
EMDR has been declared an effective trauma treatment by organizations worldwide, including the American Psychiatric Association and the Department of Defense. Furthermore, EMDR research shows that clinical change can be both profound and efficient and demonstrates how mental problems are caused by physiologically stored, unprocessed memories.
Contact us here to explore EMDR treatment for yourself or a loved one, or other methods of healing from trauma through therapy.
Laura Bowen has been working in the mental health and substance abuse field since 1998. Born and raised, Los Angeles, California. She is a graduate from University of Texas and is a Licensed Professional Counselor- Supervisor and Master Addiction Counselor. She developed a passion for working in therapy after experiencing her own tragic loss which led her desire to specialize in trauma and addiction treatment. Laura has specialty training in Psychodrama, Expressive Art Therapy, and EMDR.
Illustration: Jorde Matthews