Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., and introduced in 1987 as a treatment for PTSD. Dr. Shapiro is the founder of the EMDR Institute, Inc., in Watsonville, CA. She came upon the idea for EMDR quite by accident. Shapiro, upset by events at school that day, decided to walk through the park on her way home. Then, Shapiro noticed that as she recalled the upsetting event, when her eyes darted back and forth quickly, she began to feel better.
Shapiro posited that guided rapid eye movements while awake could help people access and reprocess adverse events.
Turns out, she was right.
The Brain’s Processing System
EMDR accesses one’s memory network system. Think of your brain as a computer system. You have a plethora of different memories in different folders and files.
These folders and files are organized based on our life experiences. Life experiences are composed and organized based on numerous factors including our sensory input (sight, touch, taste, sound, smell), our emotions, thoughts we are having during the experience, our belief systems, and how our body is responding.
Our network of memories informs our perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs of the world. Usually, life experiences are able to resolve on their own. Ever have a bad day at work, go to write a colorful email, and leave it in your drafts to read the next day? More often than not, after you sleep and return to that email the next day, you’ll read it and make some changes prior to hitting send.
Sometimes it’s a little more difficult.
EMDR operates on the belief that the past is present. A present problem is informed by past experiences that are maladaptively stored. When an experience is maladaptively stored, the sights, sounds, smells, and images of the past experience flood an individual when they encounter a trigger. Because experiences are composed of multiple factors, triggers at first can feel like there is no rhyme or reason.
The EMDR Experience
At its core, EMDR uses guided eye movements to help reprocess and take away the power of said adverse life experience by simulating the eye movements of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Ever have a dream about something that happened to you during the day? While you’re sleeping your brain is naturally processing and organizing the events from the day.
Another important component is dual awareness. During the eye movements, the client simply notices the experience(s) for reprocessing, maintaining awareness on both the past experience and present moment. Imagine being a passenger in the car and briefly seeing your life experiences as you drive by it. EMDR is an experience of noticing, not reliving.
EMDR is experiential meaning no person’s experience is exactly the same. Your life experiences are unique to you, therefore each EMDR session will be unique to you.
Imagine picking one of the brain’s folders that you’re having difficulty with. As an example, let’s use the folder for public speaking. When I mention public speaking what comes to your mind? And when you think of that, what else do you notice? Two questions in and you’re noticing previous experiences, different thoughts and beliefs, and possibly a bodily sensation that doesn’t feel the most confident.
Now, how would you like to feel about public speaking? How do you want to feel as you get in front of a classroom or group of colleagues?
Reprocessing allows the brain to reorganize said folder, prompting healing on a neurological level by making meaning out of these life experiences. As these memories are reprocessed, the emotional meaning and core beliefs of these life experiences transforms on an incredible level due to the brain’s own accelerated processing. The brain is given permission to drop the heaviness associated with the event(s) and move towards the preferred way of being.
EMDR Therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Treatment
Numerous studies, from as far back as 1993, have reviewed EMDR treatment among combat veterans and have found the results to be impressive. In fact, after one such study, which was published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress in 1998, 78% of veterans no longer met the criteria for PTSD after treatment.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has found EMDR to be highly effective in treating PTSD. The technique allows the thoughts, emotions, body sensations, and core beliefs associated with the acute stress to be reprocessed.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has recommended EMDR treatment for active and retired military members who experience PTSD. Other research has also found EMDR can help resolve acute stress and adverse life experiences for many. Research suggests that a single trauma can be significantly resolved in three 90-minute sessions.
Something more important: The lasting effects of the treatment have been impressive. Progress continues to occur between therapy sessions secondary to the biofeedback that occurs during the process. This is helpful for finding a resolution to symptomatology.
If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health or PTSD, reach out. There is hope and you don’t have to feel stuck forever.
Want to Learn More?
Considering PTSD treatment in Santa Clarita, CA? Treatment for PTSD has come a long way and EMDR therapy has been shown to be a bright light on that path. To get started, simply schedule your free consultation with your new EMDR therapist here.