EMDR

Common Questions

EMDR Frequently Asked Questions

What does EMDR stand for?
EM = Eye Movement
When Dr. Francine Shapiro originally discovered this method for dealing with trauma, in 1987, it was through the use of eye movements – moving the eyes back and forth in a horizontal motion – so she started the name with Eye Movement. Since that time, other methods of bilateral stimulation have been discovered to be effective, such as tapping and audio signals.

D = Desensitization
Desensitization is the process of reducing the sensitivity to traumatic memories or disturbing life experiences. By reducing our sensitivity to the internal and external triggers of these memories or experiences, we are able to see and experience them in a new way – without the trauma and drama usually associated with them.

R= Reprocessing
Now that the memories and life experiences have less of automatic, dramatic response, you are able to learn new adaptive abilities for coping with future events. New beliefs, insights, and abilities may emerge as a result.

What does EMDR do?
Like all organs of the body, the brain also has a system for healing itself when wounded. This natural system (which Dr. Shapiro calls the Adaptive Information Process) allows the brain to process experiences into an adaptive state where learning takes place. Sometimes, the brain is unable process the information and the original experience is stored exactly as they were experience at the time of the event. Although it is not known exactly how EMD works, it is clear that EMDR duplicates this natural healing process of the brain to allow it to process the trauma and turn it into an experience of leaning.

Where is EMDR considered to be effective?
EMDR is generally used when past memories, traumas, and beliefs are affecting your present life. You may have the following symptoms: feeling “stuck”, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, fatigue, problems with eating too much or too little, stress, tension and the inability to cope with certain situations. EMDR was developed for use with trauma. Trauma usually occurs when we experience a situation that threatens our life or the life of someone close to us – whether the threat it real or only thought to be real does not seem to matter. I have found it also to be effective with core beliefs which limit the ability to see life or cope with life experiences in a different way.

How long does EMDR take to be effective?
Each person and situation is different but there are eight phases to the process. This includes taking a complete history, preparing you for the session which includes implementing safety measures (see below), Identifying what you want to target, processing the past, present and future aspects of your target including desensitizing you to the triggers and reprocessing how you will cope with the same issue in the future and evaluation. Usually a minimum of three sessions is needed and studies have shown that 80-90% of clients can process a single trauma in three sessions. More sessions may be needed depending on the complexity of your issues. However, EMDR is not intended to be used for long-term therapy and is often used in adjunct to other types of therapy.

Is EMDR safe? What if I can’t handle my emotions?
The first part of an EMDR session is all about safety. First a complete history will be taken and we will discuss if EMDR is right and safe for you. Then, before the session, you will be taught specific techniques for handling difficult situations and to use between sessions if we run out of time while you are processing a target. It is important to know that you are always in control of a session, you can stop at any time. Since you are allowing your brain to follow it’s natural healing process, I find that the brain will not take you where you are unable to go.

Are there any negative effect to EMDR?
There may be a temporary increase in distress during the session while the process is working. New, unresolved memories may come up. Intense emotions and/or sensations in the body may occur during the session – these may surprise you – and me. And, after the session is over, you may continue to process and new memories or dreams may occur.

How will I know if EMDR is working?
Generally, it’s pretty clear when something clears and your life changes. Usually, people find that they no longer have the same images, sounds and feelings when the event is brought to mind. You will not forget, but it will not upset you. Also, during the session, I generally ask you to rate the intensity of your feelings and the strength of your beliefs, negative and positive. In this way, we can measure if progress is being made.

What do I actually do during an EMDR session?
After the history and safety measures, we identify the issue that you want to work on, find the memory and picture that is associated with that target and then I start whatever type of bi-lateral stimulation you have chosen (eye movement, tapping, sounds). Then we just follow your brain and allow it to take you to the pictures, feelings and body sensations which allow it to process the experience. Important to the process is that you watch the movement from the present moment, or as if you are on a train watching it out the window. The bi-lateral stimulation happens for only a few minutes and then I stop, ask you to report what is happening, and then continue. Periodically I will measure your progress until all the emotional triggers have cleared and your belief about yourself has changed. Then we focus on future events which may trigger you and how you will handle them.

Can you give an example of trauma?
You are driving your car down a road at high speed and suddenly a ninety degree curve appears ahead of you. You try to slow down but don’t have enough time to slow the car to a safe speed to make the curve and your car flies off the road into a ditch. You are not hurt, but during that moment of flight, you think you are going to die.
After the accident, if you are able to use the natural healing processes that have.e been found to help the brain process the experience – talking about it, dreaming about it during REM sleep, you find that when you are driving down an unfamiliar road, or the road where the accident occurred or a road similar to that road – you may remember that accident and think “ I need to slow down”. The experience has been processed into a learned experience.

If however, every time you get in your car, you become afraid you are going to have an accident, or you cannot drive down the road where the accident occurred, or a variety of things trigger the fear of the accident, then you are living in trauma. EMDR allows you to move the experience to a memory you can learn from instead of a constant fear you live with.

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