Eye Movement Desensitization
and Reprocessing (EMDR)
What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of treatment that works with the brain’s natural ability to heal itself. It is based around the premise that psychological distress and mental health concerns can be rooted in unprocessed trauma.
What is trauma?
There are a wide variety of experiences and life events that fall under the realm of trauma. Most commonly, people associate war, violence, abuse and natural disasters as events that can be labeled as traumatic.
What people don’t realize, however, is that any life event has the potential to be experienced as traumatic. From this perspective, trauma is defined as anything that you are not prepared to deal with at the time it happens. Some examples of this are:
- Childhood neglect
- Divorce and relationship breakups
- Grief and loss
- Illness and injuries
- Abuse of any kind (physical, emotional, psychological, sexual,
- Public shaming
- Substance abuse
- Negative family relationships
- Motor vehicle accidents
How do I know if I have experienced something traumatic?
Unless you live in a bubble, at some point everyone will experience an event that is traumatic. Traumatic events are only problematic when they haven’t been fully processed by the brain. When a life experience happens, one of the brain’s functions is to store the important pieces of it as a memory so it can be recalled or accessed when needed. An event has been successfully processed when the specific memory is recalled and there is no feeling attached to it; the event feels like it is in the past.
When something traumatic happens, it can overwhelm the brain and the event doesn’t process the same way that a non-traumatic experience would. The experience gets stored in the nervous system where it is not fully processed and the brain will continue to struggle to make sense of what happened.
A simple way to distinguish between a traumatic event that has been successfully processed and one that hasn’t is to think about the experience and if there is still a negative emotion or body sensation attached to it, then it hasn’t been fully processed yet. On a scale of zero through ten, zero being no emotion or completely neutral and ten being the worst emotion you have ever felt, if the memory doesn’t feel like a zero then it falls under the realm of unprocessed trauma and can be negatively manifesting in your life in a variety of ways.
How does unprocessed trauma affect mental health?
A variety of mental health concerns can be rooted in a traumatic experience or a series of unpleasant events that haven’t been successfully processed. Individuals aren’t always consciously aware of how unprocessed past events can reveal themselves as current problems in life. Unprocessed trauma can take the form of:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Eating disorders
- Chronic pain
- Low self-esteem
- Relationship difficulties
- Performance anxiety
- Recurrent nightmares
- Suicidal Ideation
How does EMDR work?
During the sleep cycle (in particular REM sleep), the left side of the brain communicates with the right side of the brain in order to make sense of events that occurred during the day. The brain then consolidates the information and stores it away as a memory so the experiences can be recalled when needed. EMDR utilizes this bilateral stimulation that occurs in the brain during this sleep cycle to help process events that are contributing to mental health concerns. Once unprocessed trauma has been successfully processed or neutralized, the presenting symptoms subside.
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