Help for Individuals & Couples
What Is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)
Developed in the late 1980s by Francine Shapiro, EMDR is now one of the most effective therapies for treating trauma.
The core of EMDR is a very simple method of painlessly stimulating your brain in order to take the emotional charge out of your most traumatic memories and reframe your most troubling negative beliefs.
When you sleep deeply, your brain goes into a state called REM, which stands for Rapid Eye Movement. In this phase of sleep, your eyes flicker rapidly right and left beneath your closed lids. Both hemispheres of your brain are stimulated, as you process the activities and emotions of your day.
During this stage of sleep, your brain is doing the miraculous job of making memories!
In EMDR, a therapist helps you stimulate both hemispheres of your brain (aka “bilateral stimulation”) while you’re awake.
The therapist might do this by asking you to watch his or her fingers as they move back and forth, tapping your knees, or emitting sounds into your left and then right ears via headphones. This causes you to move your eyes rapidly as you do each night when you sleep.
But this time, you’ll focus on a specific negative belief or traumatic memory. In the process, you’ll change the way that belief or memory is stored in your brain.
Desensitization & Reprocessing
EMDR can desensitize you to distressing memories or negative beliefs. Working with your therapist, you’ll reprocess these memories or negative beliefs in a way that they empower you.
Let’s take as an example someone who has the recurring negative thought “I am not worthy.” The client may have no idea why they feel this way.
Through EMDR, the therapist will help the client locate the source of the feeling in their lived experience, and then shift the belief to a more constructive one such as “I am good enough as I am.”
This shift in belief around the memory isn’t manufactured by the therapist. Instead, it arises organically through the process of bilateral stimulation, as we naturally work to heal ourselves.
The emotional charge previously associated with this traumatic memory dissipates, and the previously painful event is reinterpreted in a way to better serve the person’s quest for happiness and fulfillment.
Who Can Benefit From EMDR?
Anyone who has experienced trauma can benefit from EMDR.
Though it’s common to associate trauma with war veterans, the truth is that many are trauma survivors. In fact, any situation we’ve been in that was not nurturing, can be perceived as traumatic.
Common Client Histories
Our clients come to us with a range of traumatic experiences, many of which they experienced in childhood. These include traumas of:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Bullying by peers
- Parent’s divorce
- Job loss
- Racial discrimination
- Death of a loved one
We All Deal With Trauma Differently
Suffice it to say, by the time most of us enter adulthood, we’ve got at least one trauma under our belts.
We all deal with trauma differently.
Depression can be a sign that you haven’t processed a past trauma, while anxiety can indicate worry about a potential future trauma.
Most of us try to push away traumatic memories and not process them. But this avoidance causes the memories to intensify. Addiction can result when a person tries to numb these painful emotional memories.
EMDR is a healthy, quick and effective way to process trauma.
The 8-Step Protocol
in EMDR Therapy
If you decide to use EMDR, a trained therapist will guide you through the following 8-step protocol:
Step 1: History Taking –You’ll discuss your past history and goals for therapy.
Step 2: Preparation – The therapist will introduce you to bilateral stimulation and show you relaxation exercises to help you feel safe and comfortable before, during and after treatment.
Step 3: Assessment – With the help of a therapist you’ll select a memory or negative belief on which to focus. The therapist will ask you questions about your feelings, beliefs, and physical sensations while you gently process the traumatic memory. You’ll also give voice to any physical sensations associated with the memory.
Step 4: Desensitization – Next, you’ll focus on the target memory while undergoing bilateral stimulation. The therapist may ask you to follow the movement of her fingers with your eyes, or she may tap on your knees, or use another method such as playing sounds in one ear at a time to stimulate both hemispheres of your brain.
Step 5: Installation – You’ll work with your therapist to replace the negative beliefs you associate with the target memory with more positive beliefs that can serve you better.
Step 6: Body Scan – While holding the target memory in your mind, you’ll scan your body for any signs of remaining physical distress associated with the memory. If there are any, the therapist will guide you to repeat steps 4-6.
Step 7: Closure – The session will end, but if you still have any residual negative feelings about the memory, the therapist will show you how to complete relaxation exercises after the session. These will help you feel safe and comfortable until the next session.
Step 8: Re-evaluation – The therapist will begin your next appointment by assessing how well the target memory was reprocessed, whether any new memories have surfaced, and what memory you’d like to target in the current session.
How Can EMDR Help Couples?
Every couple has a “dance” they do. This dance is informed by each individual’s past traumas.
For example, let’s say a man was abandoned by his mother when he was young. Now he is frequently clingy with his wife, getting anxious whenever she goes out with her friends or pursues her own hobbies.
But the wife is inclined to be independent after she survived an enmeshed childhood, where her over-protective parents tried to manage her every move.
Now the couple does a “dance” in the relationship over and over again; whenever the husband gets close, the wife pulls away. This causes the husband to become even more clingy, which drives the wife further in the other direction.
If this couple came to us, we would try to bring the past traumas to light in our traditional couples counseling sessions.
But if the trauma is repeatedly activated in our sessions and at home, I would recommend one or both people engage in therapy using EMDR.
Highly Effective Uses of EMDR
If you’ve discovered your partner is having an affair, your entire sense of security may be destroyed. The fabric of your family has torn.
As a result, you may experience intrusive thoughts you wish would get out of your head. Or you may be triggered whenever your partner takes out a cell phone or travels alone for work.
If your partner has had an affair, it’s also not uncommon for you to experience anxiety or depression. To find your heart racing for unknown reasons. To think thoughts like, “What’s wrong with me? No one can love me.”
You are experiencing a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. EMDR can help alleviate the symptoms.
It’s likely that you’re seeking couples therapy because there are issues around intimacy in your relationship. After all, this is the most common reason couples reach out for professional help.
Unfortunately, sexual abuse is prevalent and deeply impacts the survivor’s ability to have a healthy relationship. But intimacy issues can also stem from other causes, including a history of body image issues, parental divorce, or bullying.
If you’re suffering from a past or present trauma that is impacting your ability to be intimate, EMDR can help. Working with a trained professional, you’ll desensitize painful memories and reframe negative beliefs.
This will help you connect with your partner in a deeper, more intimate way.
By doing EMDR with a trained therapist, you’ll accelerate the progress you and your partner can make in marriage counseling.
But Will It Really Work for Me?
For Our Marriage?
Yes. There are many studies that show EMDR therapy can help patients effectively process past traumas.
A meta-analysis of 26 randomized controlled trials for EMDR found that treatment significantly reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety and distress in patients with PTSD.
Bessel van der Kolk is considered by most to be the leader in trauma therapy. He is the author of the bestselling book The Body Keeps Score about how life experiences impact our bodies years later. Dr. van der Kolk recommends EMDR as a top method to treat trauma.
Would You Like to Try EMDR?
If you’d like to start working with a trained EMDR therapist, or want to talk to someone in our office for more information, please click the button below.