“What is that? It looks like it’s from Star Trek or something. Are you brainwashing people?”
“I don’t buy it. So I’m just going to sit here and stare at some lights and be cured?”
These are just a couple of the responses I get when I first explain Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy or my clients see the machine used for the therapy. Their skepticism is understandable as the process is much different than any other form of psychotherapy that most people have experienced.
EMDR is a relatively new integrative psychotherapy. It is an evidence-based practice that has been shown to have an 80 percent success rate with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). EMDR stimulates our brain’s natural ability to process life events so that we can let go of the emotional distress connected to our past. Contrary to popular belief, war isn’t the only cause of PTSD: those who survive abuse, accidents, disasters and other serious events can also develop the disorder.
Clinicians who specialize in EMDR have undergone rigorous training and supervision in order to use the technique with their clients. The process consists of scripted protocols meant to stimulate activity in specific areas of the brain and eye movements that are similar to the ones that happen during our Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep cycle, which cause both sides of the brain to work at the same time. The eye movements can be supplemented – or replaced – with tactile or audio stimulation. Unlike other types of psychotherapy, there is no need to review all of the specific details of an event to be able to work through the symptoms it’s causing. Essentially, the therapist helps to modify troublesome thoughts to those that are more pleasant.
Recently, I had a client who was a very big skeptic of EMDR become the biggest promoter of the therapy. I had been suggesting the treatment for a few months and this person had consistently declined trying it. A few months into this client’s recovery, cravings increased, and again, I suggested EMDR therapy. To my surprise, this time the client said yes! After using the EMDR process to alleviate the power of a couple of their cravings, my client told me the change that had happened was unbelievable. They began referring friends to try the process because they were so impressed and relieved by what had been accomplished in just a few sessions.
The successes I’ve seen with EMDR are indescribable. I am grateful to be a part of the process and see how each of our brains works differently. As a clinician, this is the modality that I find to be the most identifiably successful. I have witnessed the changes occur right within the session. It is individualized to each client’s needs and provides hope that the future can be different from the past.
Since its development in the late 1980s, EMDR has been shown to effectively help with anxiety, public speaking, panic attacks, depression, triggers, cravings, trauma, and other mental distresses. It can also be used to help create and strengthen positive networks in the brain, providing us with internal resources we can easily access. There is no problem too big or too small to work on and the distressing symptoms are alleviated rather rapidly during the process. When we experience a significant life event, we adapt our worldview to incorporate it. Anything we experience after the incident our brain sees through this new lens, regardless of whether it is still adaptive for us or not. EMDR helps the brain to adjust its view of the original situation and the situations that followed, so that we can have a healthier perspective and more positive thoughts moving forward.
If you want to learn more about the technique and its effectiveness “The EMDR Revolution: Change Your Life One Memory at a Time (The Client’s Guide)” by Tal Croitoru is a great resource and starting point. You can also go to www.EMDRIA.org to find a qualified therapist in your area.