“Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.”
~ Peter A. Levine
WHY I PRACTICE EMDR THERAPY / MY STORY
When I began practicing therapy, I made a commitment that I would never use an intervention that I had not first tried out myself. I have to really believe in and experience the effectiveness of an intervention before I feel right bringing it to my clients. On the second day of EMDR training, the instructor asked us to turn to the person next to us, think of a “small t” trauma (an upsetting experience that we would rate as a 2 or 3 on a scale of 0-10 where 10 is the most distressing) and just begin to practice the simple beginnings of EMDR we had learned so far. My “small t,” low level recent experience brought me back to a much more distressing, very old memory. Even though my training partner was as yet fairly unskilled, the basics of EMDR that she used on that day enabled me to let go completely of a long-held trauma that it turned out was attached to difficulties I’d been having as an adult.
After completing the training, I found a certified EMDR therapist and continued to process other distressing memories. As a skeptic by nature, I could hardly believe that I’d had such profound healing of such old traumas (and so quickly), but there was no way I could deny what I had experienced with EMDR. I completed the required 50 hours of EMDR training and consultation in 2016 and became certified in January 2019 (which requires an additional 12 hours of training, 20 hours of consultation, and a minimum 50 hours of experience with 25 different clients).
Since I began using EMDR to help my clients heal their traumas, big and small, I’ve been humbled and awed again and again as I’ve witnessed such deep, profound healing of old wounds for so many people, many of whom had tried different kinds of therapy for years and had given up hope of ever feeling “normal” again.
MORE ABOUT EMDR THERAPY
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma. When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes. The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health. If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR therapy training sessions, I can help you activate your natural healing processes.
There has been so much research on EMDR therapy that it is now recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense. Given the worldwide recognition as an effective treatment of trauma, you can see how EMDR therapy would be effective in treating the “everyday” memories that are the reason people have low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, and all the myriad problems that bring them in for therapy. Over 100,000 clinicians throughout the world use the therapy and millions of people have been treated successfully since EMDR was developed in the 1980s.
EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment. In successful EMDR therapy, the meaning of painful events is transformed on an emotional, cognitive and somatic/body level. For instance, a rape victim shifts from feeling horror and self-disgust to holding the firm belief that, “I survived it and I am strong.” Unlike talk therapy, the insights you gain in EMDR therapy result not so much from therapists interpretation, but from your own accelerated intellectual and emotional processes. The net effect is that clients conclude EMDR therapy feeling empowered by the very experiences that once debased them. Their wounds have not just closed, they have transformed. As a natural outcome of the EMDR process, the clients’ thoughts, feelings and behavior are all robust indicators of emotional health and resolution—all without speaking in detail or doing homework used in other therapies.
EMDR therapy combines different elements to maximize treatment effects, and involves attention to three time periods: the past, present, and future. Focus is given to past disturbing memories and related events. Also, it is given to current situations that cause distress (also known as “triggers”), and to developing the skills and attitudes needed for positive future actions. With EMDR therapy, these items are addressed using an eight-phase treatment approach.
Phase 1: The first phase is a history-taking session(s). I will assess your readiness and develop a treatment plan. Together, we will identify possible targets for EMDR processing. These include distressing memories and current situations that cause emotional distress. Other targets may include related incidents in the past.
If you experienced a problematic childhood, initial EMDR processing may be directed to childhood events rather than to adult onset stressors or the identified critical incident . With reprocessing, clients generally gain insight on their situations, the emotional distress resolves and they start to change their behaviors. The length of treatment depends upon the number of traumas and the age of onset. Generally, those with single event adult onset trauma (for example, a 30 year old with no childhood abuse who is in a car accident) can be successfully treated in 3-5 hours of reprocessing. Multiple trauma victims generally require a longer treatment time.
Phase 2: During the second phase of treatment, we will ensures that you have several different ways of handling emotional distress. I may teach you a variety of imagery and stress reduction techniques that you can use during and between sessions. A goal of EMDR therapy is to produce effective change while clients maintain equilibrium during and between sessions. In this phase, I may also have you choose a Nurturing Figure, Protective Figure, and a Calm Place.
Phases 3-4: In phases three to six, memories are identified and processed one at a time using EMDR therapy procedures.
You’ll be instructed to focus on the image, negative thought, and body sensations while simultaneously engaging in EMDR processing using sets of bilateral stimulation. These sets may include eye movements, taps, or binaural music. The type and length of these sets is different for each person. At this point, you will be instructed to just notice whatever spontaneously happens.
After each set of stimulation, I will ask you to notice whatever thought, feeling, image, memory, or sensation comes to mind. Depending upon your report, I will choose the next focus of attention. These repeated sets with directed focused attention occur numerous times throughout the session. If you become distressed or have difficulty in progressing, I will follow established procedures to help you get back on track, or we will pause until you feel ready to continue.
Phase 5-6: When you get to the point where you no longer feel distress related to the targeted memory, a positive belief about yourself will sometimes arise naturally (example: It’s not my fault, I’m okay, I’m safe), If it doesn’t arise naturally, I will ask you what you believe about yourself now when you think of the memory, and then use bilateral stimulation (eye movements or tapping) to anchor this belief. Lastly, we’ll do a final “white glove test” and have you do a scan of your body from head to toe in order to catch any places where trauma may be stuck in the body.
I sometimes also use Internal Family Systems (IFS) methods and the Laurel Parnell EMDR adapted protocol to “rescue” child parts from memories, relieve them of their long-held burdens, and allow them to re-write the experience. We may also use imaginary interweaves to send helpers (Nurturers, Protectors, your Adult Self, or Ideal Parents) into the memory to allow child parts to get their needs met in the memory.
Phase 7: In phase seven, closure, I may ask you to keep a log during the week. The log should document any triggers that may arise.
Phase 8: The next session begins with phase eight. Phase eight consists of examining the progress made thus far. The EMDR treatment processes all related historical events, current triggers, and future events that will require different responses
Much of the content on this page was adapted with permission from and gratitude to The EMDR Institute. For more detailed information as well as research studies, please visit www.EMDR.com
“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
~ Mary Oliver