Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a type of therapy that helps people heal from trauma and disturbing events or life experiences using eye movements, taps, or sounds. The research over the past 20-30 years shows that it can be a very effective form of treatment for a range of issues, especially people dealing with current and past traumas and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Anxiety, depression, and other issues can also be treated with EMDR.
What many people like about the process is that it does not involve medications and is different from traditional talk therapy. Instead of mainly talking about all your problems or traumas and trying to make some sense of them, with EMDR you bring up the traumas and distressing events and allow your brain to reprocess them in whatever ways it needs to in order to heal. As a client, you are completely conscious and aware as you just allow your brain to do the healing, while the therapist guides the process.
That sounds good, but also a little strange. What’s really going on here…are you hypnotizing me?
No hypnosis here, and as I mentioned above, you will remain conscious and aware during the entire process. What many experts believe is happening in EMDR is that we are using a process the brain already uses at night during dream sleep and REM sleep to help us work through and process what happened during the day and in the past. What we notice in dream sleep and REM sleep, is that our eyes move back and forth while the brain is processing. You may have seen someone else’s eyes doing this while sleeping and wondered what was going on. This is the process that EMDR is imitating.
Okay, so how does this really work?
Have you ever had a moment where you thought something like, “I feel like a little kid again,” or “I feel like I am in high school”? Where did that come from? Most likely, something in the present connected you to that past (unless you really are a kid or in high school). You may even begin to act like you did as a child or a high school student and feel the things you felt at that time. Before you know it, you are remembering some of the events that occurred at that time. If the memories are negative or traumatic, you may start to have some of the same negative beliefs now that you had about yourself back then, like “I am so stupid,” or “I can’t get anything right,” or “I have no control”. You may also experience physical symptoms like you did back then. EMDR works by targeting the memories from the past causing these present reactions and feelings, and then helping resolve them in a more beneficial and healing way for you.
You may also like to think about it this way: When a distressing event or a trauma occurs, it gets stored in the brain just like you capture a moment when you take a picture. However, in addition to the picture, the sounds, thoughts, feelings (emotional and physical) all get recorded. That information, like a picture, can get locked or frozen in time. Now, whenever something that even remotely reminds you, consciously or unconsciously, of that event, you re-experience that event in the present to some degree. If the brain does not process the information and make it a part of your past, it will continue reacting to it as if it is still occurring today. This can happen in subtle ways such as negative thoughts, fatigue, irritability, depression or anxiety, or not-so-subtle ways, like flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, extreme reactions to others, debilitating fear or anxiety.
EMDR helps to “unfreeze” the memories in the past so the brain can reprocess through them in the present. This occurs in a safe environment with support and guidance from a therapist. The brain can then allow the memory to be an event in the past, just like other events in the past, but with less emotional intensity whenever it comes up. Subsequently, when those distressing memories are resolved and reprocessed, other things associated to that memory, like other memories, negative beliefs, fears, panic, and sometimes even physical symptoms, can also heal and change.
As a Christian, how does EMDR fit into my faith?
This is a very important question! At New Vision Counseling and Consulting we bring together biblical principles with cutting-edge counseling techniques so you can get the best treatment for you as a Christian. EMDR seems to work because it taps into our God-given system and brain to heal. God created us in amazing and beautiful ways and we get to utilize those. In addition, all throughout Scripture God’s people use past stories and events to transform how they live in the present. How they related to those stories determined how they lived in the present. Reminding yourself and understanding who you are in Christ and who created you leads you to live a completely different life, with new thoughts, feelings, and beliefs!
Have you ever noticed that when you change your perspective or story about what is happening to you, you change? For instance, someone really hurt you by something they said and it really gets you down (if not downright angry). You stress about it, struggle with it, but then one day you come to a new understanding, either about yourself, the other person, or about God. With this new understanding comes new feelings, and with these new feelings you have new thoughts, and with these new thoughts you take new actions. From these changes you heal and get past the hurt and you transform. This is the very process that EMDR can help stimulate and encourage.
I believe EMDR helps you find new perspectives, and when you have a faith that is all about changing the way you view the world and people (i.e. love your enemies, love one another, forgive one another), you are able to experience dramatic breakthroughs through this process. EMDR may be able to help you change the way you see or relate to things so that you can live in greater freedom today! As the scripture in Galatians 5:1 exclaims, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”
What if I am not a Christian, can I come to New Vision for EMDR?
Yes! We will honor and value you wherever you are at in regards to faith, and we will respect that. We will gladly provide EMDR and help you through what you are needing. We want you to experience the healing from your past traumas and difficulties. It is a blessing to be able to use this tool with so many people to help resolve trauma and other difficulties
What do I need to do in order to get started?
We look forward to helping you on your healing journey!
Ben Thompson, LMFT
Ben Thompson is a Licensed Marital and Family Therapist who specializes in helping individuals and couples breakthrough their pasts so they can live more powerfully in the present and future.
He is trained in EMDR.
For more information about EMDR, go to emdria.org. If you would like to see the extensive research and studies on EMDR to their Resources link at https://www.emdria.org/page/emdrarticles.