What is EMDR?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that very rapidly enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences or trauma. The mind can heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma. When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. EMDR therapy works to help the brain heal from trauma in a similar manner.
What can EMDR treat?
EMDR was initially created as a treatment for PTSD and the effects of other adverse life experiences, and it is still used primarily for those. I have had success using it for other things, too, including:
- Panic attacks
- Performance anxiety
- Peak performance coaching
How does EMDR work?
When someone experiences a stressful or scary life event, it can lead to the experience of intense emotions. Later on we may try to ignore or block out those emotions but they keep popping up. The emotions and hurt don’t just disappear if we are not thinking about it.
Our brains are very good at processing the events in our lives, turning most everyday experiences into "normal memories." But when a traumatic event occurs, sometimes it can be too upsetting and it blocks that processing, so the upsetting thoughts, feelings, sensations, etc. get stored as they were experienced at the time of the event. EMDR helps to resume and complete that processing so that the memories are "digested" and properly filed away, without the powerful emotions, images, thoughts and reactions that were there at the start.
EMDR therapy allows the client to recall trauma-triggering memories in small doses. At the same time, their eye movements are orchestrated by the therapist. The thought behind this method is that it is less stressful and traumatic to recall these experiences in short bursts while you are also focusing your attention elsewhere (typically on a moving light or the therapist's moving fingers). This enables the client to bring the memories forward without a strong trauma response. Over time, EMDR therapy will begin to lessen the negative effect that the thoughts and memories have on a client.
Will I have to talk about my traumas?
A little bit, but not too much and only in whatever level of detail you want to share. The Desensitization phase, where you think about the event while moving your eyes, is actually fairly quiet and does not involve much talking. Between eye movement "sets" we will pause and I might ask you "what are you getting now?" You do not need to give a long, detailed answer - often just 2 or 3 sentences is enough.
What are the benefits of EMDR compared to traditional therapy?
Repeated studies have shown that EMDR is about as effective as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for alleviating the symptoms of PTSD. There are two big advantages for EMDR: It achieves results significantly faster - what can take a year or more with traditional talk therapies can be often done in just a few sessions with EMDR. For a single-event trauma the average is 1-3 sessions to complete resolution. There is also little to no homework or other things you need to do between sessions.
Is this hypnosis? Will it make me forget happy memories? This sounds kinda weird.
No, EMDR is not hypnosis. You are awake and aware and in control at all times.
And no, EMDR cannot make you forget happy memories. In fact, EMDR may create the space for more positive memories to emerge - ones you did not have much conscious room for before. You don't really forget anything, although the upsetting memories may become more "blurry" once you have finished with them.
I understand and fully admit that on the face of it, EMDR does look and sound strange. It is often difficult to fully understand and appreciate until you do it. Many people say, after just a few minutes, "oh, I get it now, I see what's going on" as the wheels start turning and processing begins.
How long are the sessions? Do I have to come to your office?
Ideally, an EMDR session is 90 minutes. This allows for a lot of processing in relatively few sessions. You can accomplish more in one 90-minute session than in two or even three 60-minute sessions.
I offer EMDR both in-person in my Boston office and online via telehealth. We can discuss your options if you are interested.