EMDR is a treatment protocol developed in 1987 by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. When we incur trauma, according to this theory, the brain goes into shock and the trauma can become “frozen” in our nervous system. Information that may be inappropriate gets locked into the nervous system. We then experience the same kinds of feelings that were occurring at the time of the trauma in present time. Because the original information stays stuck and can’t move through the system, we continue to relive the experience. That may be why we seem unable to stop ourselves from repeating the same dysfunctional behaviors over and over again despite “knowing” better. In the language of EMDR, memory networks surrounding the trauma become incompletely processed information packages. Symptoms, therefore, are simply information packages dysfunctionally stored in the nervous system.
The eye movements of EMDR have been associated with REM sleep. During REM sleep, it is believed, we process the day’s emotions; thus, it plays a role in the integration of emotional material and allows a reduction in its intensity. The bi-lateral stimulation of EMDR trigger the same possibilities as REM and allow the system to rebalance itself; information can now move through the body to allow new learning. In addition, the bi-lateral stimulation of EMDR may also open neurochemical receptor pathways for reprocessing traumatic material and foster an accelerated processing of information. EMDR opens up the blocked processes at a neurophysical level in the nervous system, freeing the innate information system so that it is now free to learn and incorporate new learnings. Some events are so painful that they overwhelm, or block, REM’s ability to process emotions. When blocks are removed or “unfrozen,” the person is then free to pursue appropriate developmental tasks–e.g., develop assertive skills; communication skills like intimacy; or other social, interpersonal, and vocational skills.
How is it used in a session?
I often incorporate Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) to accelerate a person’s process. EMDR is an imaginal exposure and cognitive reprocessing technique for treating the negative aftermath of traumatic memories. It requires that the client engage in recalling the disturbing event via imagination and focus on the concurrent feelings, thoughts, and body sensations while holding a ‘tapper’ that facilitates left/right brain stimulation. This tapper sends an alternating, minimal electrical currents through your hands, to encourage the bi-lateral stimulation. If that technique is uncomfortable, tapping by me on the client’s knees can be used.
EMDR is designed to be used within the context of psychotherapy by a trained clinician. The use of EMDR requires the client’s trust in the therapist and, most importantly, his or her ability to tolerate a wide range of intense feelings, and the willingness and motivation to face present as well as past issues.
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Rudi Lion MFT, (805) 453-4826 or firstname.lastname@example.org.