Emdr therapy for trauma

What is EMDR therapy and when should we use it?

I came across EMDR Therapy ( Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy) during my studies at University but not much training was provided. I later heard of if from a colleague in Barcelona. She was fascinated by this method and she was strongly encouraging me to get trained in it. I had other things on my plate:) 

When I came to Australia, I would hear of EMDR mostly in the context of trauma and a lot of times we would re-refer clients for EMDR therapy when nothing else was working.

So years later, I finally completed my training in EMDR and I am currently in a process of becoming an EMDR Accredited Practitioner (Accreditation as an EMDR Practitioner is not required to practice EMDR but it ensures that the therapist has the right training and supervision). I have been wondering for many years, why EMDR is not that commonly used. Now, after spending thousands of dollars, few weeks in training, plenty of hours of reading and in supervision, I understand why: it is very expensive for psychologists (money and time wise) and it requires a lot of commitment. However, it is totally worth the effort, the results for my clients have been amazing! (My ex colleague in Barcelona was totally right:)

How does EMDR therapy process look like?

EMDR has 8 phases ( you can read about it on my website under ” EMDR therapy”). Once the interview is concluded, and the client is prepared, the processing begins. This is well described in “Every Memory Deserves Respect“:

“During EMDR therapy, a client is directed to focus internally on a traumatic memory or trigger while engaged in bilateral stimulation. Bilateral in this case means simply ” back and forth”- typically, moving the eyes side to side while tracking an external stimulus (…). This creates a condition of “dual attention” – a simultaneous focus on an external activity and an internal memory or experience- that seems to jump- start and support the processing of the memory.”

EMDR can be confronting and sometimes clients resist and do not want to get into processing.  For them, processing equals facing their demons, facing those memories they have been trying to push away.  This is very normal and understandable.  That’s why it is so important to trust your therapist and find the right person for you. Someone who can hold you in this process.  “It is the therapist’s presence and careful attention to keeping her client within his window of tolerance- while confronting memories- that is key”  (Every Memory Deserves Respect“).


Why does it work? 

There is a lot of research supporting effectiveness of EMDR. Processing allows our brain to “heal” negative memories or “close” them and it is based on The Adaptive Information Processing model. This is how Shapiro (founder of EMDR therapy) explains it in her book: “Specifically, there appears to be a neurological balance in a distinct physiological system that allows information to be processed to an “Adaptive resolution,” which in this model is a RESOLUTION in which the connections to appropriate associations are made and the experience is integrated into a positive emotional and cognitive schema.  Essentially what is useful is learned and stored with the appropriate affect and is available  for for future use. “
When trauma happens and we are unable to process the memory in an adaptive (positive)  way then this memory might not be stored in an adaptive way.  As Shapiro continues to explain: “the information acquired at the time of the event, including images, sounds, affect, and physical sensations, is stored in its disturbing state”. 
So it’s like hitting “play” on your negative experiences and reliving them again and again when all you really want is to escape them, escape your past. 
EMDR processing allows these negative memories to be reprocessed and stored again in a more adaptive way. 
At the end of the process those negative, troubling memories become more distant, not that vivid, not that agitating, not that triggering. 
Fascinating, really! And evidence based! 🙂 
If you want to lear more, I would highly recommend reading Every Memory Deserves Respect” or listening to Beyond Trauma podcast.   

 If you are neurodivergent, EMDR has been proven to work well for you as well. I suggest listening to Neurodivergent Woman Podcast , episode 7: Episode 7: Neurodivergence and trauma