Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy. EMDR is based on the adaptive information processing model (AIP). The idea is, the way the body is designed to heal, as long as nothing interferes with the healing process, it is going to heal. The AIP model believes, mentally and emotionally we are designed towards healing as well, and as long as nothing interferes with the healing process, we are going to naturally move towards healing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Typical memories are held as narrative memories in the part of the brain that perceives the past. These memories are typically faded, lack intense emotion, and may be fragmented, but we can usually recall the most important parts of the memory. Trauma memories are actually held differently in the brain and nervous system. Trauma memories are held as sensory memories in the part of the brain that perceives the present. This actually shows on brain scans! Trauma memories have become stuck in the limbic system and are not able to move to the part of the brain that perceives the past. When a person has typical PTSD symptom such as nightmares and flashbacks, it is actually the brain trying to resolve it. We experience these symptoms as distressing but it is actually the brain trying to resolve the traumatic information that has gotten stuck. It’s trying to heal.
In EMDR we target these “maladaptively stored” memories and activate the brain’s processing. AIP believes we are activating the same mechanism as in REM sleep. During REM sleep we are dreaming, releasing important chemicals and hormones, and the brain is processing information. REM sleep is an important time of healing for our bodies. In EMDR we activate this processing by using BLS (bi-lateral stimulation) which is just giving the brain a signal back and forth across hemispheres. Bi-lateral stimulation can be done visually through eye movements, auditorily by listening to headphones, or tactilely by gentle taps on the hands, or through tappers you hold in your hands that alternate small vibrations back and forth. Bi-lateral stimulation is not painful in any way. People have asked if it is “shock therapy” which it definitely is not. It is also not a form of hypnosis. Bi-lateral stimulation is a part of EMDR therapy.
As we target distressing memories and activate the brain’s processing center, the brain does what it is designed to do. The brain finishes processing distressing memories, fading them, desensitizing distressing emotions, sounds, and visual images, and actually moving these memories from the part of the brain that perceives the present to the part of the brain that perceives the past. This too shows on brain scans! Years of trauma and abuse can be reduced to faded memories of something that just happened in one’s life. It no longer defines you, your self-image, or your view of the world.
Would it surprise you to know that most people are traumatized to some extent? If you’ve lived in this world very long it might not surprise you at all. We live in a challenging and wounding world. You do not have to have years of abuse, experience in the military, or be a first responder to have experienced trauma. Trauma can be seen as anything that gets stuck. Trauma comes as big T traumas and little t traumas. Big T traumas are easier to recognize and understand. However, little t traumas are likely more prevalent and affect the majority of people. Little t traumas build on themselves and the sources are not easily identifiable. However, little t traumas that have built on themselves over many years can have the same effect as big t traumas. Examples of little t traumas include bullying, which can also be a big t trauma depending on the severity, being criticized in multiple settings or over several years, never feeling good enough, or not feeling enough support throughout your life. Trauma is processed through the limbic system, not the prefrontal cortex. You cannot logic your way out of trauma. Meaning coming up with the reasons it should not bother you will not make it go away. Whether you have experienced big T traumas or little t traumas or both, healing is possible and worth the effort to reclaim your life from the effects of trauma.
Dissociation is also an important mechanism for coping with childhood trauma. If you’ve experienced childhood trauma chances are you have and continue to experience dissociation. In it’s most extreme form, it is known as dissociative identity disorder (DID). However, a more common form of dissociation is known as ego states and probably affects most people who have experienced childhood trauma. Dissociation can be experienced as emotional numbing, forgetting important parts of your life or experiences. Sometimes it feels like “checking out,” not paying attention, or even feeling dizzy or sleepy when triggering information is coming up. Dissociation is an important mechanism for helping children cope with trauma. However, once the brain has learned to do dissociate it is easy for it to continue to do it into adulthood and may not be helpful in one’s adult life. Not remembering most of your childhood and important events in your life does not mean they did not affect or bother you. It likely means you learned to dissociate to cope. Like so many other mental and emotional health symptoms we experience, it too is treatable and can heal.
Nancy has extensive experience with ages 14 and older. She has worked with as young as age 12 but does not utilize play therapy in her treatment. Contact us to see if Nancy would be the best fit for your child.
Still have questions? Contact us, we would be happy to answer them for you!
- Complex trauma
- Substance abuse/Addiction
- Motivational Interviewing