What is EMDR? How can it help me change?
EMDR or "Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing" is a mind-body approach to change.
EMDR is meant to change highly charged memories for the purpose of reducing distress while strengthening adaptive thinking. It is meant to create a rhythmic back and forth sensation for an individual while at the same time guiding them to notice thoughts, feelings, images and/or body sensations. This is done in order to reprocess the information stored from previous experiences including traumas.
(See detailed information about EMDR and it's history here.)
EMDR has been judged as empirically validated and given a rating of "highest level of effectiveness" in numerous international practice guidelines including The American Psychiatric Association Practice Guidelines.
“The aim of EMDR treatment is to achieve the most profound and comprehensive treatment effects in the shortest period of time.” – from the EMDR International Association’s Definition of EMDR
“A study comparing the effectiveness of Prozac vs. EMDR showed that EMDR was more successful than Prozac in achieving substantial and sustained reductions in anxiety and depression.”
– The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, January 2007
“It is better to be complete than perfect.” C.G. Jung
Are you feeling stuck?
Overcoming anxiety or other emotional blocks is not easy on our own.
Many people are familiar with the term “writer’s block,” but many people develop something similar over the course of their life. These are subtle or distressing "emotional blocks." Perhaps a messy break-up, a job loss, or a difficult birthing experience have left you feeling "different" than before that experience.
A block is happens when you cannot identify a specific reason for a difficultly, or you intellectually understand why, and yet you cannot break out of destructive/unproductive patterns of feelings, behaviors, or thoughts. Part of you may believe one thing and another part of you something else.
Sometimes we have an emotional block and we can no longer feel love for our partner. Other times it seems like we want to believe something other than what we do believe, or we don't believe in the ideal idea 100%, so we feel stuck, or blocked from taking action. Sometimes blocks manifest as a general sense of unease such as an unwillingness to participate in a social situation even though you know it would benefit you. These kind of blocks often impede our daily performance, our overall creativity, and prevent us from peak performance.
What experience is blocking you from what you want to believe?
My simple goal for you is to help you achieve the results you want as quickly, easily, and safely as possible, and to make sure that those results “stick” permanently. The methods I use for this are based on the most recent developments in neuroscience, which is continuously and rapidly expanding our understanding of psychological performance.
All patterns (brain activity patterns, thinking patterns, emotional patterns, behavior patterns, communication patterns, relationship patterns)–both the good ones and the bad ones–are simply the result of an accumulation of experiences stored in your brain and nervous system. Most of the negative “patterns” people come to me wanting to change have been caused by one of two things (sometimes both).
The first is something called imprinting. From the time you’re born (and actually in the womb), your brain starts developing very rapidly, and how it develops is shaped tremendously by everything being pulled in through your five senses. This creates an “imprint” on your developing brain, which becomes sort of a “default mode”–the conditioned way you will naturally tend to think, feel, and act, unless other forces have somehow reshaped this imprinting later on. So early life experiences (even ones you can’t consciously remember)–especially experiences with caregivers and others close around you–have a massive influence on personality development. Later in life, it is our peers that can shape our personality development around social issues. Still later, it is the partners we bond with and commit to. All of these experiences can change our view of our self worth and safety in the world.
The second major shaping influence for these patterns is stress. Anytime you’re under any type of stress your brain triggers certain glands in your body to produce a large amount of hormones we call “stress hormones”–things like adrenaline, cortisol, and some other things. During these periods of time, your brain does not process the information coming in through your five senses the way it normally does.
This leads to a chain reaction of effects in your nervous system: it’s a little hard to explain, but it’s kind of like “undigested” sensory data that creates “blockages” in your nervous system, alterations to pathways within your nervous system, and alterations to brain chemistry where your neurotransmitters (seratonin, dopamine, chetacholamine, epinephrine, nor- epinephrine, etc.) get thrown out of balance.
The bottom line is, it’s the build up of the effects of this “stress response” in your body, brain, and nervous system that we believe to be the culprit behind most of the emotional difficulties that people experience.
Basically, you’ve reached a point where certain things are triggering a pattern of neurological impulses in your body to fire off over and over again. The most challenging thing is that over time all these patterns get stronger and stronger–it’s like working out a muscle, the more you work it the stronger it gets (on a neurological level, it’s actually more like water running through a trench–the more water that runs through it, the deeper it gets carved out until you get to the point where it seems like everything wants to flow into that groove much too easily!).
EMDR is one of the best things I have ever found for changing emotional reactions, negative thought patterns, and entrenched habits (and often times even physical discomfort) that people can’t just “think themselves out of.”
EMDR has given us the ability to essentially reverse all those negative patterns that have developed in your brain, body, and nervous system. The end result of EMDR treatment is to reduce and eliminate negative thoughts & feelings, to increase and strengthen positive thoughts and feelings, and to enable you to really be at your best in your everyday life.
EMDR is getting a lot of press but still it sounds complicated and perhaps a bit intimidating or scary. The reality of EMDR is that for most people it is easier than traditional therapy. There is no need to think, try to do anything specific, or a need to try to stop anything specific from happening. Some what like guided meditation, it unfolds as we work. And with a trusting relationship with your therapist, it unfolds with safety. Some people report that it is easier for them than guided meditation because even if we are working with painful or difficult material they do not have to struggle to "picture," or feel, or make up something — they just have to notice if there is anything and say what it is. To read more see the other pages on EMDR.
This information is adapted from Gregory Smith's information on EMDR.
You may want to check out this YouTube video on EMDR: Please be advised that this video does not show a therapeutic environment, or just how gentle EMDR can be. It does not need to be as painful as they portrait, nor would I do this in our first session.
Also please be aware that many are trying to replicate the results with some thing close to EMDR, but the research I have sited only applies to a licensed therapist using the full eight-step protocol.
"The speed at which change occurs during EMDR contradicts the traditional notion of time as essential for psychological healing. EMDR has integrated elements from many different schools of psychotherapy into its protocols, making EMDR applicable to a variety of clinical populations."
– Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD, Boston University School of Medicine
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