EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a therapeutic approach that involves 8 phases which can alter maladaptive responses to traumatic memories. EMDR Therapy was developed in the late eighties by a woman named Francine Shapiro and it addresses symptoms associated with stress and trauma including flashbacks, panic attacks, intrusive thoughts, anxiety and phobias, as well as depression, over-reactive anger, worrying, disturbed sleep and so on.
When we experience a traumatic event the brain goes into either the “fight, flight, freeze or fawn” response. If we freeze in response to trauma, then memories can get ‘stuck’ in the information-processing system of the brain, along with the emotions and the physical sensations that occurred during the original experience. During the processing phase of EMDR, you focus your attention on a traumatic memory and engage in either bilateral eye movements or listen to a headset with alternating beeps or use alternating taps with the hands. The eye movements, beeps or taps facilitate a ‘back and forth’ or bilateral stimulation of the brain. The bilateral stimulation of EMDR allows you to ‘reprocess’ the stuck emotions and physical sensations of the traumatic event. EMDR therapy “desensitizes and reprocesses” the difficult memory or issue so that you can be at peace with it.
EMDR Therapy has been studied by neuroscientists and it has been shown to significantly decrease activity in the hippocampus and amygdala which are the parts of the brain responsible for the processing of emotionand declarative or episodic memory. EMDR essentially quiets down the stress response in the brain and body that can be “stuck on” due to the experience of a traumatic event. EMDR has also been shown toresolve earlier life memories since the brain typically stores memories along associative networks (Shapiro, 2018).
Your EMDR Therapist, Carol Cowan, would complete EMDR therapy by guiding you to desensitize your emotional reaction to the memory and then affirm a more positive belief about yourself, your safety, and your ability to move forward with your life with a new found perspective. After EMDR treatment many clients report feelings of relief, a renewed sense of control and hope. They also describe a decrease in the intensity of traumatic memory, a decrease in maladaptive emotional responses to those memories, and greater feelings of self-worth. If you are experiencing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or you are bothered by certain memories, please reach out to book your first appointment with Carol Cowan MSW, RSW.
Shapiro, F. (2018). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: Basic principles, protocols, and procedures (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.