EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. That's a lot of words! Basically, EMDR helps your brain get unstuck from spinning on the trauma memories. When we are threatened, the part of the brain that manages logical thought and memories, the hippocampus, goes offline. The brain's alarm bell, the amygdala, goes into survival mode, often called fight, flight or freeze. With the logically part of the brain taking a backseat to the alarm bell, memories cannot be processed effectively.
This is why trauma survivors often have intrusive flashbacks come back at various times, over and over. The brain is trying to process the memories, but those memories are stuck in the alert part of the brain. These memories are overwhelming, frightening, and painful, and so people try to manage them on their own possibly using drugs, alcohol, sex, panic attacks, nightmares and isolation.
The traumatic memories are frozen in the alarm part of your brain. You need to feel a sense of safety in order to allow the amygdala to relax enough to allow the logical, processing area of your brain to do it's thing effectively. EMDR therapy starts with a few sessions of your therapist getting to know you and your specific story, making sure EMDR is a good fit for you. Your therapist will help you learn skills to handle stress that comes along with PTSD counseling, as well as work to make sure you feel safe and comfortable in the therapy office.
After you and your therapist agree EMDR is appropriate for you, processing can begin. Those processing sessions involve stimulating both sides of your brain. This can be your therapist asking you to follow her fingers with your eyes, using "pulsers" small paddle like things you hold in your hand that vibrate slightly, or sometimes a light bar where you follow a light with your eyes. Whichever way you use, you are activating both sides of your brain while you keep the image of the trauma memories in your mind. It's as if you are on a train watching the scenery go by - you're not directly participating, more watching from a distance. The safety with your therapist and the emotional distance from the memories allow your brain to work through past events in a new way, bring new perspectives.
Katie uses EMDR, because it is a well researched, effective treatment for PTSD. When you participate in EMDR, you may begin notice some relief of your PTSD symptoms in only a couple of weeks! EMDR involves less talking, and most often works more quickly than traditional talk therapy. Please contact us with any questions or to start EMDR today!
This video helps explain how EMDR works. Katie uses "tappers" instead of the client following her fingers. The tappers are small pulsers the client holds in each hand. The pulsers vibrate similar to how a phone vibrates.