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Trauma Treatment: What Is EMDR?

Many of our therapists at Peace Family Counseling are trained in EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. As therapists, we know past trauma can impact you in your daily life. From small interactions with strangers to difficult conversations with friends or family. It would be nice if you knew when a trauma trigger might happen, but the reality is, is that most of the time you react without thinking and then later realize it’s likely due to past trauma.

This past summer I was on a snorkeling trip with my son and husband. And almost as soon as I got into the water, I had a panic attack and had to be rescued by the lifeguard on the boat! Once I got safely back on the boat and I was no longer panicking, I knew that this incident was connected to a past trauma which had very similar circumstances (warm water, strong current, no way to get back to safety without help). Later that night my husband said with compassion and curiosity, “I don’t understand, you had a life vest on which you inflated immediately so you knew you weren’t going to drown, what happened?”

Because I am trained in trauma, I was able to explain how unprocessed trauma causes the brain to take over and send out an emergency signal when sometimes, there is no actual emergency.

This event reminded me of how often we just react in our day-to-day interactions with others and sometimes don’t even realize we have been triggered and our brain signaled an emergency when it could have sent out a “head’s up” or “pay attention” signal instead!

What is EMDR?

  • Eye-Movement-Imagine you’re watching a butterfly fly from one flower to another. Your eyes follow its movements. With EMDR, a therapist helps you move your eyes while you think about the upsetting memory. It might sound strange, but this helps your brain process memory in a better way. Similar to how your brain processes information when you’re in REM sleep at night.
  • Desensitization-This means making something that bothers you feel less scary. EMDR helps your brain understand that even though something bad happened, it’s not happening right now.
  • Reprocessing-This means we’re trying to intentionally get your brain to reorganize your thoughts and feelings. EMDR helps your brain put those upsetting memories in the right place so they don’t interfere with your relationships.

Here’s how EMDR works
Step 1:
Talk with a therapist– First you build a good relationship with your therapist. A therapist will help you identify memories from your past that bother you and how these might be interfering in your daily life. You won’t need to share every detail with your therapist, just what you’re comfortable with sharing.

Step 2
Bi-lateral stimulation-This is a big word to describe that we want to engage both the left and the right side of the brain to help process the memories that are stuck. Some therapists have you follow their fingers, some use a battery-operated device called a Theratapper, others have you do your own tapping on your legs. You and your therapist can decide what is the best option based on your comfort level and their training.

Step 3
Think and Feel
While your therapist is using bi-lateral stimulation, they will direct you to think about the memory, much like you would if you were watching a movie. It might make you feel upset when recalling the memories, but that is normal. The therapist will help you feel safe and grounded, even while recalling these difficult memories. As your brain is able to process these memories, your brain and body begin to calm down.

Step 4
Feel Better
After doing these steps, the memory won’t bother you as much. It’s almost like magic! You will still remember the event, but it should not bother you as much moving forward. EMDR helps you feel strong and in control of your feelings.

Here are some important things to remember about EMDR processing:

  • You’re in charge-You decide what you talk about and how much you want to share. The therapist is there to offer support without critique or judgment.
  • It takes time-Feeling better is like learning a new game-it takes time to get good at it. You might need to do EMDR a few times with the therapist before you start feeling better.
  • Safe and supportive-The therapist creates a safe and supportive space for you. You can always tell them if something doesn’t feel right.
  • Fewer triggers-EMDR won’t make the memory go away altogether but it should make the triggers less frequent and less overwhelming. That way you can think about those events without feeling so upset every time.

EMDR isn’t magic but it can help you feel less overwhelmed and more in control of your triggers and even your past.

If you are looking for help with trauma, depression, anxiety, trauma, grief/loss, marriage/relationship issues, please feel free to reach out via the intake form in the purple section below labeled “let’s talk”. We’d be happy to hear what is happening and help you find the right counselor to help you feel better quickly. You can also read our bios and request a specific therapist. Our physical office is located in Greenwood, Indiana and we offer teletherapy to anyone in the state of Indiana.

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