EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is an accelerated healing approach that was developed to deal with the effects of trauma.
The theory behind EMDR is that when a traumatic or disturbing event occurs, the brain becomes overwhelmed and cannot digest the event as it would normal life events. The expression “I can’t wrap my brain around this” reflects a truth about our human response when we are confronted with profoundly stressful situations. As a result, the painful memory gets stuck in the mind as raw memory fragments, such as pictures, sounds, smells, negative thoughts about the self, upsetting emotions or uncomfortable body sensations.
These unprocessed memories are primarily stored in the right-hemisphere of the brain, without access to the adaptive resources of the left-brain hemisphere. EMDR appears to unlock the painful memory networks and allows a connection to be made between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, similar to the processing that naturally occur at night during REM sleep.
In an EMDR processing session, one or more types of bilateral stimulation are used. This might take the form of right-left eye movement, alternating auditory tones or tapping. It is understood that bilateral stimuli helps to jumpstart the processing between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This physiologically based approach has been found effective in reducing the intensity and negative charge associated with past events. It does not change the ability to remember the event, but rather it helps the individual recall the experience from a new, less disturbing perspective.
EMDR originally developed as a treatment for Vietnam Vets struggling with PTSD, but it has since evolved into an effective intervention for other conditions as well, such as anxiety, panic disorders, phobias, depression, guilt, anger, and grief. It can be used to process through a single-event trauma, such as a car accident, a natural disaster, a sudden loss, or a frightening medical experience. Or it can be employed to address the accumulative effects of emotional bullying, domestic violence and physical or sexual abuse. The advantage of using EMDR is that it offers a more rapid means of working through specific wounds from the past, providing symptomatic relief that is long-lasting.