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What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR stands for “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing”. It is a highly researched, evidence-based therapy initially developed to treat individuals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). It is one of two types of psychological treatments recommended by the World Health Organization to treat PTSD.

In addition to addressing major traumas, (e.g. experiencing or witnessing violence, abuse or calamities such as car accidents, house fires or natural disasters), EMDR therapy can also be effectively used to resolve other issues such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, childhood/family of origin issues, relationship concerns and other distressing life experiences that have not necessarily resulted in a PTSD diagnosis.


How Can EMDR Help You?

EMDR can help you resolve the issues in your life that keep you feeling stuck, scared or hurt. This can be an incredibly empowering and liberating experience, often resulting in improved mood, confidence, vitality and general outlook. When the past is no longer holding you back, more energy is available to invest in your present-day experience and future aspirations. Clients often report feeling more peaceful, joyful and resilient after participating in EMDR therapy.


How does EMDR work?

EMDR helps the brain process distressing memories from the past so that they no longer hold the same emotional charge in the present. The client is asked to recall the distressing event as the clinician guides the client in one of several forms of dual attention stimuli, which may be visual (eye movements), tactile (pulsors held in each hand) or auditory (headphones that omit alternating beeps in each ear). This process can actually help “neutralize” memories so that they are no longer upsetting and will no longer impact on one’s present-day experience.

But what is actually happening during this process? Picture the brain as a large filing cabinet full of files. When the brain’s processing system is working well, our memories get neatly stored away into their appropriate files. When an individual wants to remember a particular event from the past, s/he simply opens up the file, has a look at the memory, and then stores it away again. When memories are adequately filed there is a sense of completion- we are clear that what happened occurred in the past, and even though the incident may have been upsetting at the time, we can revisit the memory without it prompting an unmanageable level of distress. When trauma occurs, however, the brain’s filing system is less likely to work so efficiently. It is as if the pieces of paper from the files are strewn all across the room, unable to be put away. In this respect, the memories continue to create distress; it is almost as if the trauma is still continuing. EMDR therapy can help these memories be adequately filed away so that they no longer create disturbance and interfere with daily life.

Much research is currently underway to clarify the mechanisms of action that make EMDR so effective. It is hypothesized that dual attention stimuli mimics the brain’s natural processing systems that occurs during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep, where an individual’s eyes naturally move quickly back and forth beneath the eyelids. It is theorized that during REM sleep, new sensory information and experiences from waking life get stored into memory, and that a similar process occurs in EMDR therapy. In other words, the dual attention stimuli in EMDR may serve as a conscious, accelerated version of REM sleep that similarly prompts the brain to process memories. When information gets adequately stored in memory, it no longer has the same emotional charge and no longer will cause discomfort.

Please contact me with further questions or to see if EMDR therapy is right for you.


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