Imagine for a moment your brain.
It’s an amazing yet sensitive piece of your anatomy. However, it’s what you can’t see that perhaps makes it so vulnerable. Specifically, the effects of emotional trauma.
When you have traumatic experiences, your brain does its best to protect both you and itself at the same time. This can look like “walling off” memories or thoughts associated with that trauma. Basically, it tells you that those memories are painful—so don’t go there.
Yet, the process of healing from trauma requires that you do go there and revisit that painful past.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy can help you with that in a unique way. Carefully guided sessions can be like the window into the brain needed to find that healing.
Here’s how EMDR works.
Walling Off the Past
When you experience trauma, your brain does its best to try and protect you. That’s why it may wall off certain thoughts or memories associated with trauma. It’s because, for your mind, you are still stuck in the traumatic moment. Thus, your brain starts taking defensive measures to protect both you and itself. This makes sense when you consider that survival is of paramount importance.
Yet, at the same time, this protective measure also gets in the way when you’re trying to lead a normal life.
With trauma, particularly unresolved trauma, your brain is always sensitive to triggers. These triggers set your brain off, warning it of potential danger. This, even though there is no real threat at all.
How EMDR Works
Actually, EMDR works very simply. It is a process that allows you to open a window into the brain. How so? Where there was once a brick wall, EMDR creates that opening so that you can experience those traumatic memories stuck in your mind.
But why? Wouldn’t it be better to forget them?
As mentioned above, the problem with unresolved trauma is that the symptoms make it very hard to get through life. The key to resolving the trauma is being able to reflect on those thoughts, feelings, and memories without experiencing distress. And that’s how EMDR works to resolve trauma.
EMDR is a therapy method with eight phases. The process generally looks like this:
- Phase 1 – In the privacy and comfort of the therapist’s office, you discuss your trauma history and they assess your readiness and develop a treatment plan for you.
- Phase 2 – The therapist prepares you for the reprocessing session, teaching you techniques to handle stress and difficult emotions when they come up.
- Phases 3-6 – You’re guided to bring up a visual image of your traumatic memory, identify a negative self-belief connected to that memory, and recognize any emotions or bodily sensations that you experience. The therapist also begins utilizing bilateral stimulation, such as passing their finger back-and-forth in front of you, and have your eyes follow along. As the therapist asks open-ended questions related to the trauma, you don’t have to reply. Rather, the questions help guide your thought process. At the end of this stimulation process, you’ll also be guided to implant a positive self-belief to counter the negative one.
- Phase 7 – You’re asked to keep a log for the time between sessions and note any trauma-related matters that come up.
- Phase 8 – This begins in the next session as you and your therapist examine the progress you’ve made thus far. Through this assessment, the therapist can determine the focus of the new session.
The aim of this process is that, with time, you are able to recall the traumatic memory without experiencing distress.
As you can imagine, this cannot be accomplished in just one EMDR session. There can be many memories and details associated with your trauma. Thus, you might work to resolve one aspect of a memory until that no longer causes distress. Then, you move on to the next detail.
Resolving the Past for a Healthier Future
The objective behind EMDR isn’t to open old wounds. That’s not how EMDR works at all. Rather, the goal is to try to heal those wounds in the first place.
You see, without treatment, those emotional wounds left from the trauma remain open and raw. Even decades later they can still impact your life every single day. The focus of EMDR is to tell your brain that you no longer have to feel this way. The trauma is over, and you can move ahead with your life.
Understanding how EMDR works provides you with with the understanding for how your brain is affected by trauma. The process creates a window into the brain that both you and your therapist can use to resolve those memories. However, because this takes more than one EMDR session, having a healthy relationship with a therapist is key to success.
I’m an experienced EMDR therapist. And I would like to invite you to contact me and find out more about how EMDR therapy can work for you.