When someone calls me to schedule an appointment, I often ask if they are familiar with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) and a frequent response is that they have heard of it, but don’t really know what it is, or they don’t understand how it works. This description is an easy-to-understand synopsis; for more information, you can read the more detailed description that the EMDR International Association has written. (CLICK HERE)
I usually begin my explanation by defining trauma as something that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope. It doesn’t have to be a major trauma, such as abuse, war, natural disaster, violence of any type (witnessed or experienced firsthand), but it can be conflict with family or friends, difficult school or job experiences, bullying, an abrupt move, financial difficulties, legal issues, etc. It can be chronic and ongoing in a person’s daily life, or it can be a one-time experience, such as being in a car accident or suffering medical trauma from a procedure.
I help them gain a basic understanding how the brain works, and how the left and right hemispheres operate when confronted with a traumatic event. The “left brain” controls our reasoning, logic and our analytical thought processes; we know logically that we are ok. But our “right brain” tells us otherwise. This is where creativity, seeing the big picture (versus just the parts), and the comprehension of emotions lies.
When trauma occurs, it can get stuck in the brain or “frozen in time,” with the individual experiencing the memory of the trauma as if it were the very first time (sensory information remembered). The past becomes the present over and over, and the original trauma has a lasting effect that negatively impacts the way an individual will act, think and see the world.
EMDR allows for links to be made from the left brain to the right brain for the disturbance to be resolved through bilateral stimulation, which is a process of using eye movement, tapping or vibrations to stimulate both sides of the body and brain. This allows for both sides of the brain to communicate with each other, which is a safe and natural process in the processing of the traumatic material. Strong emotional responses are relieved and negative beliefs derived from the trauma are challenged and usually resolved. EMDR also allows for adaptive information (facts, positive experiences, examples, and beliefs about self) to be assimilated into the disturbing event, providing a greater sense of self-efficacy and healthier self-esteem.