EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a highly effective and well-researched therapy approach used to address the painful effects of trauma and a variety of other psychological issues.
When a disturbing or traumatic event occurs, the brain is often unable to process the experience as it normally would. Instead, the traumatic event can get stuck in the brain in the form that it was originally experienced. Current symptoms (e.g., anxiety, panic, low self-esteem, sadness, and fear) are often manifestations of unprocessed traumatic experiences. EMDR utilizes bilateral stimulation - either through eye movements or other forms of gentle, rhythmic stimulation - which activates both sides of the brain, to process past trauma.
EMDR uses a comprehensive 8 phase treatment model that is effective at preparing a person for trauma work, as well as identifying and accessing traumatic memories that are at the root of one’s symptoms. When a relevant traumatic memory is identified, bilateral stimulation is used to activate the brain’s inherent information processing system to facilitate the “digestion” of unresolved trauma and promote healing. As information processes, it’s common for new learning to take place, cognitive insights to emerge, emotional distress to resolve, and healthy behavior changes to occur. Once past trauma is resolved, the focus of EMDR shifts to processing present disturbing situations and triggers. Next, skills that are necessary to meet future goals are developed.
When the phrase “trauma” is used, it often brings to mind major events, such as a car accident, physical or sexual abuse, a violent attack, or a natural disaster. EMDR is very effective with these types of major traumas. Interestingly though, EMDR is also effective with more common events that have an enduring negative impact. For example, childhood humiliation or shaming; rejection or abandonment by a parent; family conflict; verbal or emotional abuse; or peer or school trauma.
Twenty-four randomized controlled studies empirically validate the effectiveness of EMDR for treating emotional trauma and other types of adverse life experiences that are commonly addressed in counseling. EMDR is considered an evidence-based treatment for trauma-related stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms associated with PTSD. EMDR has been validated as an effective treatment for PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) by a number of organizations, including:
EMDR has also received a high level of recommendation by the mental health departments of Israel, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom, France, and Sweden. Additionally, SPECT scans, performed by Dr. Daniel Amen (2001), have been used to show beneficial treatment effects before and after EMDR with police officers who were suffering from PTSD.
Because trauma is at the heart of many psychological symptoms, clinicians have reported success using EMDR in the treatment of a wide range of conditions. Examples include:
Both clinicians and patients have found EMDR to be a very valuable healing modality. In fact, over the past 25 years more than 70,000 clinicians worldwide have been trained in EMDR and over two million people of all ages have used EMDR to overcome a wide variety of psychological issues.
Another valuable aspect of the EMDR therapy process is its effectiveness with addressing negatively held beliefs about one’s self and the world. Beliefs are like mental programs - they have a strong influence over our thoughts, feelings, moods, behaviors, and relationship patterns. Often times, beliefs are unconscious, or out of our awareness, yet they still wield a very powerful influence. Common negative beliefs include: “I’m not good enough,” I’m unlovable,” and “I’m a failure.” As traumatic experiences reprocess, the negative beliefs that developed during those experiences dissolve. Another important component of the EMDR therapy process is that it strengthens updated, positive, more accurate beliefs, such as “I’m good enough,” I’m loveable,” or “I can succeed.”
EMDR is not only very effective for processing trauma and transforming negative beliefs, but also for enhancing skills and resources. Positive qualities, such as confidence, relaxation, focus, assertiveness, initiative, courage, determination, and motivation can be strengthened through the EMDR process. EMDR also combines very well with both Brainspotting and the Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy (DNMS) for strengthening internal resources. Imaginal Nurturing is a very effective relational-based EMDR resourcing approach that is especially effective with attachment-oriented trauma.
EMDR can also be used to help improve the performance of a particular activity or skill-set. This approach to EMDR, known as "performance optimization,” is useful for developing and enhancing the capacity to perform in areas such as public speaking; various types of competition; or academic, athletic, work, and stage performance.
I've dedicated a significant amount of time and attention through training and consultation to develop my EMDR skill set. I completed EMDR Parts I and II in 2004 and I'm an EMDR Certified Therapist. To date, I’ve performed thousands of EMDR sessions with my clients. I also provide EMDR related training services to other therapists: As an EMDR Approved Consultant, I enjoy providing individual and group consultation; I’m an EMDR Training Facilitator in Dr. Philip Manfield's EMDR Part I and II training for clinicians; and I teach an EMDR Refresher & Practice Course to current EMDR clinicians, here in Portland. Additionally, I have training in counseling approaches that complement the EMDR process, including Brainspotting, the Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy, Energy Psychology, and Imaginal Nurturing. If you’re interested in EMDR, feel free to contact me to discuss any questions you may have.
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