How does EMDR work?

Hand Held "Tappers"

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) works by incorporating both the left and right part of the brain.  This is known as bilateral stimulation (BLS).  The left and right side of your brain are activated by watching fingers move back and forth in front of your face (hence, the "eye movement" part of the name.)  

 

Bilateral stimulation can also be activated by having your hands physically stimulated simultaneously using tappers, pictured above (read more about that here) or using headphones and listening to an alternating sound.  

EMDR therapy allows you to process a "stuck" memory or ingrained negative belief about yourself and then pair it with a positive belief.  Using BLS, you begin to "desensitize" (that's the D in EMDR) yourself to the memory.  Once you are fully desensitized to that event, we then reprocess the negative belief that was attached to the event.  

 

For example, you may have been in a car accident and now have the overwhelming feeling that you are not in control.  For a target like that we may choose to instill the opposite belief "I am in control."  Once we can desensitize the accident by replaying a piece, or all, of the memory in your head we can change your thought pattern.  

 

In other words, once you have completed EMDR therapy on the car accident, when you think about the event and it will no longer be that traumatic incident that you can't stop thinking about.  

 

After EMDR you will still remember the accident but now the accident is no longer distressing.  It will be a neutral event that occurred in your past.  Your brain will realize that the belief "I am not safe" is not relevant in the present.  

 

Therefore, the memory will no longer have an emotional charge.  You will have let go of the belief that was haunting you.  When you think of the accident you will no longer have the overwhelming feel of not being in control.  

 

After the negative belief has been detached, we will pair the memory with the new belief "I am in control" as your present thought.  Through processing the memory, the mental picture you envision will become harder to see.  It won't be as vivid and you won't feel like you are back at the scene. You should no longer be able to attach any smells, sounds, or bodily feelings to the memory.  

In addition to specific traumas, EMDR works on negative beliefs you might have about yourself due to prolonged exposure in an unsupportive environment.  If you grew up being constantly criticized you may have developed the belief that you are "not good enough" or that you "have to be perfect."  

 

Since these beliefs are not tied to one specific event, we can approach EMDR in a few ways.  We can choose to focus on the worst event that caused you have that belief, we can focus on the person or persons who caused you have that belief, or we can even just focus on the statement "I am not good enough" and see where your brain takes you.  

EMDR works by addressing both the cognitive and emotional part of the memory. Initially the traumatic memory or memories got stored incorrectly with a negative belief attached to it.  EMDR helps to process the trauma, change the belief and properly store it in your long term memory.   

To learn more about the theory behind EMDR, click HERE

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