What is EMDR?
By Niko McGee, BA, Mental Health Counselor Intern
Supervised by Dr Peter H Addy, PhD
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing or EMDR is an extensively researched form of psychotherapy that enables people to heal from symptoms and emotional distress that are a result from disturbing past life experience (aka trauma). It is an integrative approach that involves elements of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness, and somatic-based therapy. It has also shown to be effective with anxiety, phobias, self-esteem issues, addiction and many other issues.
Okay, so that explanation is largely for clinicians. Another way to put it is that disturbing memories get “locked up” in the brain, causing symptoms like anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, addiction or relational issues. Clients seem to like this definition as they can usually relate to this idea of memories feeling locked, stuck or fragmented.
How does EMDR work?
EMDR uses bilateral stimulation (BLS) to help “unlock” traumatic material and help the brain heal itself. BLS can include eye movements, alternate tapping on your thighs, or alternating audio in your headphones. It is YOUR brain doing the healing and YOU are in control throughout the whole process; I am largely just holding a safe space while your brain does the work.
So it’s like hypnosis?
Kind of… the key difference here is that EMDR focuses on dual attention where hypnosis involves more of an altered relaxed state. Dual attention can be best described as one foot in the past and one foot in the future.
Do we dive into the worst memories right away?
No. We take at least a few sessions getting to know each other, deciding which memories to target for processing, and work on strengthening your resources. I can also work with your current or previous therapist to gauge readiness for treatment.
We will make sure that “one foot in the present” is strong before we dip into your past. This will involve guided imagery and mindfulness exercises combined with BLS to help “install” the skill. Building a calm/safe space, focusing on a time where you’ve mastered a skill or practicing grounding can all be considered resources. Also, this lends really well to dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills, so if you’re already familiar with those, that’s great. But if not, we can help with that. This phase will help introduce you to what EMDR is and give you some time to practice the BLS before processing traumatic memories.
Feel free to schedule a phone consultation with Niko McGee, BA, Mental Health Counselor Intern, by calling Emerge Natural Health Care at (360) 787-3615.