What is EMDR?
EMDR is a type of treatment that helps us to access and reprocess past traumatic memories and other disturbing life experiences that are affecting our present life.
Why do past experiences continue to impact us?
At the time those disturbing events happened, our brain got wired to survive and deal with the pain and make sense of things that did not make it. All of us have the capacity to heal, but sometimes that capacity has been overloaded because the adverse experiences that we are trying to heal from took place too early in our lives, were too unexpected, too overwhelming, or too repetitive. Or all of those.
The responses that our nervous system may have developed to adapt to those experiences when they occurred may have been helpful at that time. But probably, with time and in different life conditions, the adaptations of our nervous system are no longer effective. Sometimes these adaptations get in the way when we try to find peace within ourselves and build good relationships with others. Being able to reprocess those memories could help us to feel less triggered and have more adaptive responses in our present lives.
What´s the goal of EMDR therapy?
The goal of EMDR is to help us to reach a more adaptive resolution of our past, so that we are no longer suffering in the present. A more adaptive resolution integrates traumatic or adverse experiences so that they no longer feel that they are happening now (relieving constant disturbance) nor that we are stuck in the moment when they were happening (relieving the sense of helplessness). Then, our bodies can read and react to the present more freely and we can use our current resources to heal the wounds from the past.
How does EMDR works?
EMDR is not talk therapy. While talking is a part of it, the focus of the work is on engaging your sensations and emotions while reprocessing past experiences. EMDR uses bilateral stimulation (through eye movement, tapping our knees or shoulders, holding a buzzer in our hands among other options) as one of its main techniques. Bilateral stimulation is important for two reasons: first, it helps our nervous system to maintain a dual awareness in both our past and our present. When we have dual awareness, the past and present became more clearly two different moments in our lives. This can help our brain to recognize that what we are recalling is not happening in the present and increase a sense of safety.
Secondly, bilateral stimulation has been considered a natural human resource that facilitates the reprocessing and the creation of new networks, similarly to what happens in the REM phase when we sleep.
How do I know if EMDR is for me?
Some clients expect therapy to be mostly focused on thoughts or feelings that they verbally share with their therapist and on the therapist interpretating and offering ways to make meaning of them. EMDR is different. The focus will be on the responses that the clients hear from their body when processing trauma and the associations that their nervous system will make between internal and external events.
EMDR has been described as a bottom-up therapy, because in order to reprocess disturbing experiences and since trauma lives in parts of our brain that are difficult to access by talk therapy, we need a bodily-aware modality that can help the processing in a deeper level. Once we do that, we can effectively use our verbal-rational skills to complete the reprocessing.
How do I know if I am ready for EMDR?
If you’re feeling burdened by past experiences, EMDR might be an option for you. We sit down with all potential clients to complete an evaluation and discuss all the options. In those first appointments, we’ll talk a lot more about the EMDR process, and you’ll have time to ask as many questions as you need to. If you decide to move forward with EMDR, we will work with you to build skills and resources to help you to better regulate your emotions in the present and to improve your sense of safety before we engage in any trauma reprocessing.
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Monica Fuentes Carbonetto, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor