What is EMDR therapy?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, also known as EMDR therapy, is a method of psychotherapy that focuses on helping individuals process the traumatic events that contribute to PTSD, anxiety, depression, and panic disorders.
EMDR was discovered by Dr. Francine Shapiro during a casual walk, when all of a sudden she discovered that her troubling thoughts and feelings had disappeared without knowing why. To figure out what caused her dark thoughts to subside, she began experimenting. Eventually, she discovered that while she was having a disturbing thought, the thought would go away if she moved her eyes back and forth rapidly. Upon having this realization, she began to develop a protocol that could be duplicated and tested. That protocol is what we now know as EMDR therapy.
How does it work?
Neurologically speaking, being triggered by a traumatic experience causes our pre-frontal cortex to have less control over the activated amygdala and hippocampus. This causes us to become overwhelmed and not process things correctly. Because of this, traumatic events become trapped in the amygdala-hippocampal complex and feel like they are occurring in present time even if they took place days, weeks, months, or years ago. Memories that remain unprocessed are considered “stuck,” or prone to elicit extreme responses repeatedly.
Our average memories are processed during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. When we enter REM sleep, they move swiftly in and out of our amygdala-hippocampal complex without getting “stuck.” Essentially, what we experience during REM sleep is the same as what we may experience during an EMDR therapy session. Typically, during an EMDR therapy session, you will focus on a specific memory and move your eyes back and forth rapidly, like when you are experiencing a dream. This gives the over-stimulated amygdala an opportunity to slow down and process the traumatic memories just like it would with any other memories.
Who can benefit from EMDR therapy?
EMDR therapy is most commonly used for those who have suffered from traumatic experiences. However, the Dallas Therapy Collective compiled a list of other reasons why one might consider EMDR therapy.
- Single incident traumas (such as car accidents, destructive weather events, being robbed, etc.)
- Low self-esteem
- Relationship difficulties
- Domestic violence
- Performance enhancement (sports, music, etc.)
- Feeling stuck in life
- Childhood trauma
- Sexual assaults or physical assaults
- Social anxiety
- Feelings of rejection
- Trust issues/affairs
Whether or not you are already seeing a therapist, it may be worth giving EMDR therapy a try. EMDR Therapy may provide a much-needed break from usual talk therapy. If this seems like something that might interest you, speak to a trusted health professional or do your own research at the EMDR Institute.
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