Healing Beyond Hurt: Transforming Trauma with EMDR Therapy
EMDR, short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing may be one of the strangest ‘mainstream’ therapies available. It burst onto the therapy-scene with a reputation for fast breakthroughs for trauma. It is recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a first-line treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
EMDR can be used as a stand-alone approach or as one component of 'regular' therapy. If your therapist doesn’t provide EMDR, you can see another therapist just for the EMDR component. So, let's get to the nitty-gritty of exactly what EMDR is and how it works.
What is EMDR?
EMDR is a type of therapy designed to help recovery from painful or traumatic experiences. It's built on the foundation of neurobiological research which tells us that trauma isn't confined to just the verbal aspects of our brains. Instead, it's etched into our entire being, including our bodies and non-verbal systems. This means that sometimes, merely talking about the trauma isn't enough to effect real change. We need to engage our bodies and non-verbal experiences in the therapy process as well.
EMDR involves remembering the painful memory while applying sensory cues that alternate from one side of the body to the other. It’s called eye movement desensitizati
on and reprocessing because it was initially done using side-to-side eye motions. Often the therapist waves one or two fingers side to side in front of you and asks you to follow them while remembering the painful event. This might sound a bit like hypnosis, but rest assured, you won't be entering a trance or experience increased suggestability. This happens while remaining fully conscious. Research shows that using body tapping or sounds (playing audio through one earbud followed by audio in the other earbud) can also be just as effective.
Does EMDR change my memories? Does it make me forget my memories?
EMDR doesn't change the content of your memories or cause you to forget them. The goal of EMDR is to reduce the intensity of the emotions these memories evoke. After a successful course of EMDR treatment, you'll be able to think about the difficult memory without getting overwhelmed. You'll likely gain a fresh perspective on what that memory means to you, but the core content remains intact.
What's the EMDR experience like?
It depends! The EMDR experience varies from person to person. The core process involves bringing up the distressing memory and allowing your mind to explore it for 20-40 seconds at a time while applying the sensory cues. Between these rounds, your therapist will check in with you. For some, it feels akin to meditation or watching a scene in your mind, like a daydream. Emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations ebb and flow. While it can be challenging at times, it's not a constant struggle. Many people are surprised to discover moments of joy and even humor during their journey.
Will I feel overwhelmed by my negative memories during the process?
It's crucial to recognize that EMDR involves revisiting painful memories, so a degree of discomfort is expected. Think of it as a workout for your brain. However, it should never be entirely overwhelming or make you feel like you're reliving the past. Your therapist will work with you at a pace that's comfortable and productive.
How long will it take me to feel better?
It can be as little as one session! Some may find resolution in 6-8 sessions, while for others, it may take longer. Even in these cases, positive changes start emerging after 1-3 sessions, even if the full benefits take more time.
The duration of EMDR therapy varies depending on factors like the complexity of your experience and the number of memories you wish to process. Many individuals experience quicker results with EMDR compared to other trauma therapies.
What does EMDR treat?
EMDR is recognized as a go-to treatment for PTSD, backed by extensive research. However, you don't need a formal PTSD diagnosis or specific symptoms to benefit from EMDR. If past experiences are causing you distress, EMDR may be an excellent therapy option.
Ready to Give EMDR a Try?
Rebecca Bacon-Ehlers is a Clinical Social Worker and EMDR practitioner at Hola Therapy. Even if you're already in therapy with another practitioner, you can explore a short course of EMDR with Rebecca. Or if you’re interested in starting sessions, please reach out. You can contact us here with any questions you might have.
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