EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) Therapy is an increasingly common therapeutic approach. Originally developed to assist people who had been traumatised by adverse events, it is now also used to assist clients who have persistent feelings and/or body sensations that they are unable to resolve, and who are caught in cycles of undermining thoughts and behaviours that arise from taking in limiting beliefs and patterns in their early life.
So how does EMDR Work? Firstly, a full history is taken to give a context to the work. Then, the outcomes the client wants to work towards are identified, and symptoms are explored, building up a picture of what processing work will likely be needed. Safety will be checked out, EMDR is not appropriate for everyone. Next, clients are assisted in building their ability to stay with uncomfortable emotions, body sensations and thoughts, and in building access to resilient aspects of themselves that can support them in nurturing, protecting and guiding themselves if needed.
EMDR processing then involves inviting clients to fully experience their symptom here and now. This is needed to open up the brain circuits that are holding the distress. It's sometimes not comfortable, but it is generally not as unpleasant as clients fear. Once a client is 'activated', then the healing work can begin. This involves a dance between there and then, and here and now, alongside stimulation of both sides of the body (called bi-lateral stimulation) to help the mind-body system make connections between the parts of experience that have been stuck up until this point, and the wealth of resources the client already has that can unstick them.
If needed the therapist can help processing along by asking questions, inviting the client to take different perspectives, or by making suggestions, but often none of this is needed and the client will process as they need to without additional prompting. A connection arising spontaneously from the client is worth ten therapist suggestions, our role is oftentimes to get out of the way of the content and instead to be a loving, enabling presence in the room.
Clients often want to know HOW the change will happen. The truth is, I've not seen two cases the same as yet. Sometimes client's visual recall of the memory changes, evolving the images they see. Sometimes memories spontaneously develop a new ending, changing the way the client relates to them (and still recognising that the past itself does not change). Sometimes clients experience physical sensations that change, as if energy were moving around the body. Sometimes clients go through intense emotions that evolve and subside. Sometimes clients have many ah-ha moments, seeming to process cognitively in the main.
While the specific way memories are processed is highly individual, what is common is that levels of distress invariably come down during EMDR processing. They may go up and then come down, but come down they usually do. At the same time, clients very often experience changing beliefs about themselves and the situations they have been through, with positive, enabling beliefs spontaneously appearing and becoming deeply held. Physical sensations also tend to change, with emotions felt in the body to begin with, and not by the end of the work. The protocol used in EMDR checks out that the changes needed have happened, making sure that a memory is fully resolved before the work is complete.
So what happens in EMDR Processing? I don't know yet is the most congruent answer I can give. Added to this, I am excited to find out, because the possibilities for healing are many and varied, and I have a deep trust in my clients and their ability to heal.
If you would like to resolve stuck emotions, thoughts or physical symptoms, or have experienced trauma that troubles you, then please get in touch.