EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing)

What is EMDR?

EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing, is a strongly recommended treatment for trauma.

What counts as “trauma?”

“Large-T traumas” are extremely negative, unexpected events that shock and interrupt a person’s reality and expected way of experiencing the world (e.g. car accident, physical or sexual abuse). This usually causes significant emotional symptoms that are evident soon after the event. In addition, a person who experiences a large-T trauma may have acquired negative beliefs (e.g., “I’m to blame”) that if left unchecked, can affect many other situations for years to come.

“Small-t traumas” are less major, even minor negative events that a person has difficulty coping with (e.g., being bullied or teased, parental discord, or getting stitches). Small-t traumas are likely to result in negative outcomes, stress disorders, if they occur n childhood when coping mechanisms may not be fully developed.

How can you make “trauma” go away?

Nothing can make trauma go fully away. However, some treatments, including EMDR are highly effective in reducing the serious symptoms of trauma.

Then what does EMDR do?

EMDR targets memory-storage and memory-retrieval processes. The treatment restructures and reorganizes memory to reduce the serious and unwanted emotional symptoms of past trauma along with the negative beliefs about oneself (i.e. “It was my fault”; “I’m stupid”; etc.)

How does EMDR work?

Traumatic events are stored differently in memory compared to non-traumatic experiences. Think about it like this—every day, non-traumatic events are put away in one’s memory just as clean, dried, folded shirts are put away in the appropriate drawer. In contrast, traumatic events are thrown into one’s memory like a dirty shirt that is tossed into a dark closet.

Non-traumatic memories are retrieved when we want to find them. We find them by recalling similar memories and events until we come upon the “clean shirt.”

Traumatic memories can be triggered even if only a small, seemingly insignificant association to the trauma occurs. Because the memory was “tossed” we don’t know when we will see it again. Simply, “opening the closet door” or reaching for a “clean shirt”, puts the person at risk for experiencing stressful emotions and physical symptoms (e.g., upset stomach or headache).

EMDR is painless and works by desensitizing the person to the traumatic memory. “Desensitizing” means that a response will become less tied to an emotional response. By reducing the feelings associated with a memory, and increasing the organization of the memory, EMDR can help individuals think about an event without experiencing a flood of negative emotions.

How will I know if the EMDR works for me?

Since EMDR can effect significant improvement in just 1 or 2 sessions, you may see the effectiveness if the symptoms you experienced pre-treatment are reduced or even disappear altogether after just a few EMDR treatments. This will include feeling like you can function better in life. For those who were bothered pre-treatment by the recurrence of traumatic experiences, those episodes should become less frequent. Other symptoms that may be reduced include anxiety, irritability and sleep difficulties. Confidence, improved mood and a sense of well-being are just some of the positive results seen with EMDR.