EMDR and trauma

EMDR and trauma

My partner and I recently completed the 60 hour training in Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR). A different explanation of the acronym is Eyes Moving, Digest, and Recover. Many of us agreed this was a much easier explanation of what was taking place in this therapeutic protocol.

“. . . negative experiences and unmet developmental needs can block ‘healthy’ information processing.” ( Francine Shapiro)

We store information via thoughts, pictures, smells, tastes, emotions and sensations. Each new experience is layered onto past events. EMDR works in our brain’s information processing system – our memories.

Stored memories determine our narrative story. Negatively stored information may “interfere with healthy development of an individual’s sense of self-worth, safety, ability to assume appropriate responsibility for self or other, or limits one’s sense of control or choices.”(Emdria Basic Training Curriculm)

To access the connection between sensorial experience and its relation to feeling and memory, EMDR, utilizes Dual Awareness Stimulation (DAS), in the form of tapping, use of buzzers or beeps, or eye tracking. The purpose of dual awareness is to have one foot in the past (our stored memories), and one foot in the present. The therapeutic aim is to move implicit memory (non-declarative, procedural memory) to explicit memory (declarative autobiographical memory).

The reprocessing involves going back to rectify disruptions that occurred in our cognitive, sensorial or emotional development. Before we do this, and to ensure we have resources to support the processing, quite a bit of preparation takes place over several sessions.

“Cells that fire together, wire together.” (Siegrid Löwel)

Therapeutic time is spent making a family of origin genogram to meet and see those relationships, establishing a calm place, creating meditative practices that ground and centre us, connecting with inner wisdom, practicing presence and having the protocol explained must be in place before moving into the reprocessing aspect of the protocol.

Once a target issue is discussed, the level of distress the issue presents, and how you would like to feel about the issue is considered, then sets of bilateral stimulation begin. These sets are about 20 – 30 seconds in duration. When stimulation stops, the therapist simply asks “What is coming up for you now?” The person processing answers in a few words. The therapist says, “Go with that” and commences another set. This process continues until the feeling around the issue shifts.

In one of my training experiences, I found myself feeling a tight constriction in my throat and chest but had no words to describe this terrible feeling. I felt my eyes welling up with tears as I underwent not being seen or heard. I realized I was very young in this moment. Was this the first time I had a cognitive understanding of this sensorial experience of frustration?

I got mad, but the tightening would not let go. I did not have the language, but I had body positions that when I moved into them and breathed I felt better. The dual awareness stimulation helped me to be in the present moment, so when the words that described the sensation started to filter into my consciousness, I noticed the grip in my chest and throat loosen. I noticed the tension in my body easing, I found words and felt less frustrated until I just had the memory and no sensorial, or emotionally charged feeling restricting my connection to a three year-old’s experience.

At the end of the session, I was tired, but fully aware of a cause to one of my life concerns. I was more connected to my inner world and had the understanding of how my earlier experience impacts my current life.

The use of EMDR can take one or more sessions to clear out negative material from each targeted memory – memories that are targeted for processing are those which continue to have a negative effect on a person. The number of sessions required for each individual will depend on the specific issue, life circumstances, and the degree of previous trauma experienced.

In the past few years, both the American Psychological Association and the US military have recommended EMDR as a way to treat PTSD in soldiers and the general public. EMDR has an effect on the way that the brain processes information, and facilitates healing of past negative events. In other words – following EMDR, when a previously upsetting event is brought to mind, a person will no longer relive the images, sounds, and feelings from before. Although the event will still be remembered, it will be less upsetting.

Although a fairly new therapeutic technique, EMDR is meeting with much success. EMDR is a natural process. The client and the therapist become partners on a journey to help move traumatic and blocked energy. Together they work to transcend and free up the energy, so the client can return to their natural grounded state of being. The goal of this work is to help the client heal, so they can return to their life in peace.