Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of therapy that is specifically used to treat trauma and/or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). EMDR can also be used for crisis intervention and to help manage distressing events, such as the loss of a loved one, or anxiety producing events.
EMDR differs from other forms of therapy because it is an experiential treatment that requires very little talking. If you are very distressed by your trauma, it is NOT necessary for you to share all the details of your trauma with your therapist. This can allow folks who don’t want to talk about their trauma to still heal and recover from it.
There is a lot of research backing the use of EMDR in trauma treatment. One study found that after 8 EMDR sessions, 95.2% of patients no longer had PTSD. Of course, the duration of treatment is dependent on the complexity of the trauma and/or PTSD.
So what does EMDR look like? First, you and your therapist will spend time making sure you have stabilizing tools and techniques to help you feel grounded and safe to begin EMDR. Depending on where you are at, this could take a few sessions to achieve. Once you and your counsellor feel you have the skills to stay grounded, you will begin treatment. Your therapist will guide you to access your trauma in a safe way and then provide a form of Bilateral Stimulus. This means your therapist will have you watch their fingers as they move them in front of your face, or will alternate tapping on your knees. This allows both parts of your brain to process your trauma from a neurological level.
EMDR is an exciting form of therapy because it helps you heal your trauma from a neurological level. EMDR helps you know in a very felt sense, the reality of what happened. For example, some folks who have survived trauma may, at a cognitive level, know that they are not to blame for what happened, but they do not believe this at a deep, felt sense. EMDR works to help integrate, or join, these two beliefs so that you can deeply know you are not to blame for your trauma.
For those who are interested in the biology of EMDR, it works very much like the REM stage of sleep. You may know that when we sleep, we enter a stage of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement. During this stage, our brain is integrating our memories and storing them in longterm memory. Unfortunately, after trauma we sometimes get locked out of doing this and can’t properly store our memories into our longterm storage. This is what produces all the distressing symptoms we associate with trauma, PTSD and anxiety. During EMDR, we are recreating rapid eye movements while consciously directing the processing. This allows us to store the memories in the past where they belong, rather than feeling like we are still currently living through the traumatic incident.
EMDR is backed by The American Psychiatric Association, The Department of Veterans Affairs & Department of Defence, and The World Health Organization as effective form of trauma and PTSD treatment.
If you think that EMDR could be the right fit for you, our counsellors Cecile, Shayla and Charlotte are trained in EMDR and they are excited to help you put your trauma in the past.