EMDR Therapy: What's that all about?

If you’ve ever considered therapy, you likely are only too aware that we therapists do love to use ‘catchy’ terms like attachment theory, somatic therapy, CBT, DBT, family systems, solution oriented, interpersonal and psychoanalysis, when describing what we do.

Now, (hopefully) we know what these terms mean - but there’s no reason why non-therapists would. They certainly weren't terms that I bandied around the boardroom in my non-therapy past career and so I’m going to assume some of the terms might be new to you too.

In this blog, and others to follow, I’m going to break down a few of the therapeutic approaches I work with. I don't believe therapy is a ‘one size fits all’ experience so I draw from several approaches and techniques including EMDR, somatic therapy, CBT, Mindfulness, Family Systems, Imago couples therapy and more, according to what my years of experience, tells me will best match each individual’s needs. 

First up, let’s talk about EMDR.

What is it?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and is, in therapy terms, a relatively young technique. But its already stacked up an impressive resume with research proving it effective in the treatment and reduction of a wide range of symptoms, particularly depression and post traumatic stress reactions.

Most commonly, EMDR sessions involve identifying target memories and stimulating each side of the brain alternately (bi-lateral stimulation) as we remember them to help alleviate disturbing emotions and sensations attached to them. Bi-lateral stimulation is achieved by asking you to follow a moving finger or light back and forth with your eyes.

Why do I use it?

EMDR research findings were enough to make me curious to know more, because if there really was a short duration technique that could help people free themselves from unhelpful past experiences then I wanted in.

But being a cynical Brit at heart I needed to experience it for myself before I’d accept it’s usefulness and begin offering it to my clients. And that’s exactly what happened. I took off my therapist hat and became a client, and in less than an hour I was recalling memories I hadn't thought of for years; identifying how these memories related to current challenges in my life, and most importantly, reducing their impact on my current life. I couldn't dismiss that! 

How does it work?

When we experience a disturbing event - it could be anything from a small but hurtful experience with a friend, to a near-death traffic accident - it can get locked in the brain with the original images, sounds, thoughts, feelings and body sensations, in a different way to neutral or positive experiences.

EMDR procedures can help us ‘sniff out’ memories that may be stuck in this way and then stimulate that information to allow the brain to reprocess the experience. It may be the same thing that’s happening in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) or dream sleep - the bilateral stimulation i.e. the eyes moving back and forth, helps to reprocess the frozen material. And once the frozen memories are reprocessed and stored optimally, it gives you an opportunity to move on from it in a way that wasn't previously possible.

I offer short term work using EMDR for tackling specific events or memories that just wont leave you alone. I also use EMDR within broader therapy sessions - say for example, we’re working on a goal of building self esteem but we come across an experience that has contributed significantly to your experience of low self esteem. Using EMDR techniques we can work on that specific memory and reduce its power, sothat we are free to work on building more positive self regard without the memory constantly holding us back.

If you’d like to know more about how EMDR might be able to help you, please call or email me for a consultation.