What is EMDR Therapy?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy was initially developed by Francine Shapiro in 1989 as a simple desensitization technique to treat posttraumatic stress disorder and has since evolved into a comprehensive psychotherapy that treats a broad range of problems with diverse populations.
Since its inception, more than 30 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have shown EMDR therapy to be effective in treating PTSD in adults and children and is now recommended in a number of treatment guidelines for trauma work and recognized as an Evidence Based Treatment (EBT). There is also evidence from other RCTs that EMDR therapy may be effective in treating major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, psychosis, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance use disorder, and pain. For links to research on the efficacy of EMDR therapy, click here or here.
EMDR therapy is a comprehensive therapy approach which focuses on personal growth and change, beyond the remission of symptoms. EMDR therapy treats the whole person, meaning it addresses the individual, relational, and behavioral domains. There is also the recognition and incorporation of the reality of the systems that we all live, from the familial to the cultural systems. As EMDR therapists we want to help our clients’ capacities to respond adaptively to life challenges resulting from developmental trauma while building/restoring resilience and promoting personal growth.
As I like to put it, EMDR therapy can help you learn to let go of the pain from your past, live more fully in the present, and develop hope for the future.
What Can be Treated with EMDR Therapy?
Although EMDR therapy was initially developed to address single even traumas, such as car accidents, natural disasters, and assault, it has been found to be an effective treatment for a wide range of issues including depression, anxiety, dissociation, and the impact of discrimination and internalized bias.
We have come a long way since EMDR therapy was first developed and have a much better understanding of the nature of traumatic experiences. Some of the most profoundly affecting experiences from childhood are those that did not happen that were supposed to – nurturing, attachment, care and emotional attunement. EMDR therapy can effectively be used to address these types of early traumas, to both reduce or eliminate the stored pain from those experiences and to build the healthy, adaptive resources that were not nurtured in childhood. EMDR therapy can absolutely be used to address dissociation and dissociative disorders, BUT it must be done by those with further training in doing so to help prevent harm to our clients. If you struggle with significant dissociation I highly recommend finding a Certified EMDR therapist with specialized training in working with dissociative disorders using EMDR therapy.
Research has supported the idea that people from racial and ethnic minorities may experience racial discrimination as psychological trauma, which results in symptoms very similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is likely that the experience of discrimination and resulting symptoms applies to members of other marginalized groups such as the trans and queer communities. These traumatic experiences lead to internalized negative beliefs about self and the future which can be targeted by using EMDR therapy.
As one prominent EMDR therapist and author, Robin Shapiro, has noted “EMDR can target the cultural transmission of racism, sexism, class expectations, and the increasingly narrow parameters of acceptable appearance, interests and personality. It can transform the effects of generational transmission of destructive beliefs, identities and emotional states…We can help people accept themselves even when they are bombarded with external messages that they are unacceptable.”
As a Certified EMDR therapist and Consultant-In-Training, I obtain specialized trainings on n on-going basis to keep up my skills and knowledge. If you are interested to see what specialized trainings I have completed, click here.
How Does EMDR Therapy Work?
EMDR therapy involves identifying memories that have become neurobiologically stuck. These unresolved memories make the past feel like it is still very much the present and they force current life experiences to be filtered through a negative, distorted lens. Using bilateral stimulation (usually in the form of eye movement or alternating tactile buzzers) allows the brain to digest the memories that are stuck so they are no longer disturbing. This in turn helps change negative beliefs about yourself and the future that were developed due to these negative past experiences.
The Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model that EMDR therapy is based on suggests that the brain has a natural healing process for dealing with difficult life events; much like the body has a natural healing process for cuts and broken bones. Therefore, EMDR therapy is analogous to cleaning out an infected wound or setting a bone. EMDR therapy is a multi-phase process, often involving significant assessment and preparation, particularly when there is complex and developmental trauma or dissociative processes. It can be an intense experience to activate the thoughts, feelings, and sensations associated with these stuck memories. Therefore, we do a lot of work ahead of time to ensure that you are prepared to handle whatever comes up. I carefully monitor this process so that we do not overwhelm your system. The reward of this difficult work is that the source of the pain is neutralized, as the brain integrates the positive and reality-based perspectives of safety, efficacy, and self-worth. (Much of this description was generously reproduced with permission of Susie Morgan, MFT).
You have taken the first step by checking out this website. I encourage you to take the next step and reach out to me or another EMDR therapist to get the healing started.