Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Are you troubled by intrusive and painful thoughts and emotions? Do you struggle with strong feelings of self-doubt or self-recrimination for past decisions or actions? Is it difficult to feel ‘comfortable in your own skin’ due to anxiety and/or memories?   EMDR is a special psychotherapy  which I use with clients to address to address painful and intrusive memories and thoughts/beliefs about the self. EMDR has been found in multiple research studies (see: EMDR.com) to provide significant relief for individuals and couples who have experienced the disruptive impact of trauma and negative self-esteem related to unresolved memories and experiences from earlier in life.

EMDR was originated and developed by Francine Shapiro, PhD  in 1987 and has been the subject of multiple research studies demonstrating the effectiveness of the treatment  for relieving feelings of distress and increasing the ability to believe more positive thoughts and statements about the self (Shapiro, 2001).  EMDR differs from other forms of psychotherapy in that it does not completely rely on ‘talking through’ painful thoughts and memories but rather uses a protocol of focused mental , emotional , and sensory awareness combined with eye movement  or other forms of bilateral stimulation to assist the brain in desensitizing and reprocessing  blocked memory and learning networks.

“Desensitizing  and “Reprocessing” involves the use of eye movement or other forms of bilateral stimulation (BLS) (I often use a tool called ‘tappers’ which are held in the hands and use a gentle, alternating vibration). BLS is a key component of EMDR in that it works on the principle of prompting changes in brain function by providing alternating stimulation to the right and left hemisphere of the brain.  Given that each hemisphere is linked, controls, and responds to the opposite side of the body (e.g. right eye links to left hemisphere of brain) the alternating stimulation of the eye movement stimulates each lobe of the brain forcing them to synchronize more fully.

Recent neuropsychological studies have demonstrated that persons who have experienced trauma and other significant life altering events may demonstrate over-activation of the right hemisphere of the brain over the left hemisphere. BLS prompts the brain to remain active in both hemispheres even as the memory of a disturbing event is brought to mind.  This creates the potential that rather than remaining isolated in the right hemisphere, the memory and thoughts and emotions associated with a traumatic event can be processed by the whole brain and more effective learning and understanding of the experience can be achieved.

References: Shapiro, F. (2001). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): Basic Principles, Protocols,  and Procedures (2nd Ed.). Guilford Press: New York.

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