EMDR: WHAT IS IT AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

When people first come to see me they are always curious about the light bar that sits in the corner of my office (see image). “What is that thing?”, they ask. I explain that the light bar is a tool I use to provide EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). Most of them have never heard of EMDR. Those that have are usually excited about it because they’ve either had a positive experience with it or know someone who has.

For those of you who don’t know, EMDR is an evidence based practice that helps people reprocess memories that keep them from living life the way they want to. It’s most commonly known as a treatment to address past trauma, especially Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But it’s much more versatile than that. I use EMDR to help people who want to change behaviors or beliefs about themselves that they’ve been unable to change with traditional counseling or by themselves.

A good example is a person who feels inadequate and wrong whenever someone points out a mistake they’ve made. Such a person might be quite successful, having pushed the inadequate feelings down and overcompensated for them through perfectionism. Most people that fit that scenario know their reactions and beliefs are irrational, but that knowledge does not alleviate the core feelings of worthlessness. That’s because those core beliefs were formulated through some experience from long ago when they felt shamed. The memory of the shaming experience has been improperly stored in the brain and has impacted every subsequent experience of criticism in such a way that they feel worthless, incompetent, or damaged despite all evidence to the contrary. In EMDR we say that the past remains present. By using EMDR we put the past back in the past where it belongs.

EMDR works in much the same way as dreaming does. When we go to sleep at night and dream our eyes shift back and forth, bilaterally stimulating the left and right hemispheres of the brain. In doing so, we are able to process unconscious material that has emerged during the day. In EMDR we use eye movements, sounds or tapping to also bilaterally stimulate the brain to reprocess the memories that have created the patterns that keep us stuck.

In my practice, I usually use the light bar to help people with their eye movements. The green lights that are shown in the center of the bar will move from side to side, and as they do I instruct clients to notice all the aspects of their memory and just follow the lights. As we engage in sets of eye movements using the bar, the memory slowly shifts until it is no longer disturbing. Then we use eye movements to pair a more functional belief, such as “I’m good enough as I am” with the original, disturbing memory. This way, they can go out into the world and when they have an experience of being criticized, for example, they will resonate the feeling of being good enough instead of being a failure.

I find EMDR to be an amazing methodology that I use with many people who come to see me. If you are feeling stuck in a pattern that you feel helpless to change EMDR might be right for you. For more information:https://compatiblecounseling.com/emdr-eye-movement-desensitization-reprocessing/


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