Sometimes we have experiences we are unable to move on from. Those experiences may feel like they are still very much "with us" and subtle triggers may cause us to feel, think, and react as we originally did, even in very different situations years later.

The human brain has a remarkable ability to heal itself by processing memories - "digesting" experiences and filing them away. But some experiences are so upsetting or traumatic that the brain's natural ability to process the experience gets blocked. The result is the re-exeperiencing of those thoughts, feelings and rections.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is remarkably effective in removing those blocks and helping to resume and complete the healing process, often very quickly. Those painful reactions subside, we may develop a more positive, adaptive outlook and self-image, and the experience becomes firmly filed away in the past.


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:
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Addictions
  • Phobias
  • 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.

Phases of EMDR

EMDR follows an 8 Phase Process. Know what to expect from the first session to the last.
1. History and Planning
1-2 Sessions
Discussion of the specific problem that has brought you here, the behaviors and symptoms stemming from that problem.

This is when we begin to define the specific targets for EMDR:
  • What are the past event(s) that created the problem?
  • What present situations cause similar distress?
  • What are some key skills or behaviors needed for your future well-being?
2. Preparation
1-4 Sessions
The purpose of the Preparation phase is to help you understand what we will be doing and to ensure you have the necessary coping skills to handle distress.

I will provide you with an overview of the theory of EMDR, how it is done, and what to expect during and after treatment.

Depending on your needs, you might learn a variety of simple relaxation techniques for calming yourself in the face of any emotional disturbance that may arise during or after a session. We will proceed with the next phase only when you feel you are ready.
3. Assessment
1-2 Sessions
Traumatic experiences can be complex and there are often several different kinds of aspects or components to the experience. We will identify the components of the event(s) that we need to process, including:
  • mental images of the event
  • thoughts, emotions, physical reactions that go with the memory
  • negative thoughts about oneself that you might have developed
  • identifying a positive self-statement you would like to believe now
4. Desensitization
1-3 Sessions for single event
This is where we work on processing the experiences and memories. Typically we will be using controlled, guided sets of eye movements while you recall the experience and notice your reactions in the moment. This removes the blocks so that your brain can process and resolve the disturbing memories and components (thoughts, emotions, reactions, etc.), as well as any associated memories that may arise.

Upon completion, you should feel the event is "in the past" and not experience much distress when thinking about it.
5. Installation
<1 Session
Often, traumatic experiences "teach" us something negative about ourselves. During the Desensitization phase those negative beliefs begin to turn into more positive, adaptive thoughts. Here we work on increasing the strength of the positive belief that you identified to replace the original negative belief.

For example, "I am powerless" can become "I am now in control."
6. Body Scan
<1 Session
Traumatic experiences also can leave physical traces or "body memories." These are remnants of the traumatic memory that are stored physically. To ensure we have fully processed the memory we will target any remaining, unresolved physical reactions that arise when thinking about the event.
7. Closure
End of each session
Ends every treatment session. Closure ensures that you leave at the end of each session feeling better than at the beginning. I will brief you on what to expect between sessions (some processing may continue, some new material may arise), explain how you might use a journal to record these experiences, and ensure you can use calming techniques to self-soothe outside of the therapy session if you need to.
8. Reevaluation
Opening of each session
Opens every new session. We will review the previous session and any experiences you had between sessions.  We will also check-in on the "state" of the memory being processed. Although you may feel relief almost immediately with EMDR, it is as important to complete the eight phases of treatment, as it is to complete an entire course of treatment with antibiotics.
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