How does EMDR work?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an approach to psychotherapy that helps people work through and heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that come from one or more disturbing life experiences.  There are many studies that have shown how EMDR, when used in conjunction with psychotherapy, can help people experience beneficial changes in a much shorter time. Severe emotional pain does not have to take a long time to heal. Incorporating EMDR as an adjunct to psychotherapy, can help the mind heal faster from psychological trauma. The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health.  If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound can last for many years, festering and causing intense suffering.  Once the block is removed, the impact of the traumatic event lessens in intensity.

No one knows exactly how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically nor how changes occur in the brain after a traumatic event.  However, we do know that when a person is very upset, his or her brain cannot process information in the same way it would if he were experiencing an ordinary event. Suddenly, one upsetting or traumatic moment becomes “frozen in time,” When recalling a trauma, a person may feel as bad as when he or she went through it the first time. This is because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed and have remained frozen almost like a photograph.  It can feel as if the event is happening in the present. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that influences the way a person sees the world and often changes the way he or she can relate to certain situations or to other people.

EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. The brain begins to function in a normal way once again. This means that a person no long relives the intense images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. He still remembers what happened, but he is less upset by it. Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.

I like to combine hypnosis with EMDR because I find the two techniques even more effective when used together. Disturbing memories, traumas and negative beliefs can be resolved much more quickly than with talk therapy alone. Traumatic experiences from infancy can be worked through even if the person has no real memory of the event. It is not as important to remember the traumatic event, as it is to shift and resolve the feelings and beliefs that are connected to the memory.