About EMDR

EMDR (stands for: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) works by not only addressing the immediate cause of distress, but also by accessing those “channel memories” fueling and intensifying the immediate cause. It allows one to “clean out” these channels and then to essentially neutralize the target trauma. The end result is that the target trauma will cease to illicit feelings of anxiety and anything we experience that reminds us of the trauma will cease to trigger anxiety, as well.

How EMDR works

EMDR is based on an Adaptive Information Processing Model, which essentially just means reordering memories and information in our minds in a way that is healthy for us and allows us to become “unstuck” mentally and emotionally. The therapy uses dual processing—both mental and emotional processing—by combining various elements of more traditional “talk” therapies with methods of activating regions of the brain controlling both logical and emotional processing at once. This is important because when trauma occurs, our thinking brains are essentially temporarily muted (our minds may feel like that have gone blank) so that the sympathetic nervous system (via fight or flight hormones) can take over and do their job to try to protect us quickly. We experience fear and anxiety, but not a lot of actual thinking takes place. What that means is that since the traumas are experienced primarily through our emotions and in our bodies, the memories of trauma are actually primarily stored there, too, rather than in our thinking brains. So it is difficult to get to the trauma through the thinking brain, as we might do in more traditional kinds of “talk therapies,” because it really doesn’t live there.

That’s where the dual processing, using bilateral stimulation element comes in. It is believed that since the right side of the body is hardwired to the left side of the brain, and vice versa, if we stimulate alternate sides of the body while focusing on traumatic memories, we can bring about both logical and emotional/symbolic processing at the same time and get to the trauma where it lives.

When the therapy was first developed, eye movements back and forth were used to replicate the stage of sleep—Rapid Eye Movement or REM—during which memory consolidation is thought to take place. As the therapy continued to be explored and developed, tactile and auditory stimulation were found to be similarly effective. So while the therapy has kept its original name: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, we actually use a variety of types of bilateral stimulation to bring about bilateral processing. We use back and forth eye-movements, use of tappers held in each hand that vibrate gently back and forth, the use of alternating tones through headphones, or sometimes combinations of these.