EMDR: What it is, and a therapist’s experience

Healing through Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing

 

Two weeks ago, I attended and completed a 5-day intensive EMDR (Eye Movement
Desensitization Reprocessing) training course. I found myself integrating EMDR therapy into
​​my practice the day after my training practicum. I went in being a skeptic learner. I came out
from that training truly feeling the power of EMDR and I am never going back.

 

“The past affects the present even without our being aware of it.”
― Francine Shapiro

 


EMDR is both an evolving theory about how information is perceived, stored and retrieved in
the human brain and a specific treatment method based on this theory (Shapiro, 1995, 2001).
EMDR allows the individual the room to process through ‘unprocessed’ memories and recreate
meaning of the memories. EMDR therapy can be helpful in introducing newer and more
adaptive neural pathways for what is happening currently and future anxieties as the negative
associations are no longer present.


The Neurobiology of Memory

To understand how EMDR therapy works, we need to understand that memories are stored in
the brain through neural networks. A neural network is a group of interconnected brain cells—
neurons—that fire together. When traumatic memories are stored, they are part of maladaptive
neural networks that limits the ability to adapt, process and resolve stress associated with the
trauma.​​

 

REM Sleep
The eye movements used in EMDR therapy seem to stimulate the same processes that exist in
rapid eye movement, or REM sleep. During REM, we are in deep sleep and we may dream.
There is also stimulation in learning in the brain. The eye movements in EMDR represents
bilateral stimulation that activates both left and right hemispheres of the brain.
Also similar to REM sleep, eye movements from EMDR therapy help transfer memory, including
the emotions, physical sensations and beliefs associated with the original memory, into
semantic memory networks (long term memory).

 

Who can benefit from EMDR?
A lot of people associate EMDR therapy with trauma, as it’s seen to be effective to treat
individuals who struggle with trauma or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, EMDR
therapy can be integrated into many different populations and mental health concerns such as
for self-use, relationships, military, dissociation, children, addictions, grief, phobias and pain.

 

“Unlike other forms of psychological disorders, the core issue in trauma is reality.”
—Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score

 


Which memory of mine can be processed?
EMDR is effective regardless of when the event took place: it could be an incident from 15
minutes ago, 15 years ago. EMDR invites the client to have total free association across their
life span: past, present and future.

 

EMDR could process the future?
An anxiety refers to our anticipation of a future concern. Anxieties are present feelings of stress
that are based on our past learned experiences to prevent and react to any similar situations in
our future. Therefore it is possible for some of your anxieties to be linked with the same neural
network.

​​

Self-practice: See if you can group your anxieties together based on past learning with a core
belief. Here is a list of some core beliefs to help you get started: https://www.emdrconsulting.com/pdfs/CORE-BELIEF-CLUSTERS.pdf

 

Is EMDR therapy triggering? What if I don’t want to bring up the past?
There are varying versions of processing through bilateral stimulation (eg. unrestricted,
contained, or restricted processing) that the trained EMDR practitioner assesses in which to
work with their client based on their best clinical judgement.
What if my eyes are strained or if I get headaches from the eye movements?
Through decades of research on this modality, EMDR therapy is now more adaptive than ever.
You don’t have to do eye movements for it to work. Therapists are able to do tapping (eg.
alternating from hand to hand), auditory (eg. tones played from one ear to the other), tactile
bilateral stimulation depending on what works for the client.

​​

My experience with EMDR
I found that the vividness and the disturbance of the incidents I wanted to process became so
much more manageable. The memories I processed didn’t ‘disappear’ after the therapy
treatment and I acknowledge and recognize all the emotions from the past experiences.

 

However, I was able to let go of the feelings of resentment and disgust* because these were
the emotions that kept me from moving past the memory. These were the feelings I latched
onto that created the neural connection to keep thinking and reliving it.
I joked with my partner, my “counsellor” during the training practicum, how we are now pretty
much a group of hippie therapists: sending love and peace to all. As a therapist, EMDR training
gave me glimpses of hope and wonder towards helping out those unable to get past their past.
*these feelings are subjective to whatever experience/neural network you are processing

​​

Paired with Art Therapy
I found that EMDR resourcing techniques, to access and activate memories, can be worked
with Art Therapy especially when it comes to various visualization exercises such as the
container and inner peaceful place.

 

Want to experience what EMDR is like for yourself? Schedule a session with me through our
online booking system, Jane: https://balance.janeapp.com/#/staff_member/4

 

 

-Linda Lin

 

 

Image credits:

 

 

Photo by Jake Noren on Unsplash

 

Photo by Mint Owl on Unsplash

 

Photo by Timur Romanov on Unsplash

 

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

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