Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an evidence-based therapeutic approach that focuses on past negative experiences (memories) that are emotionally charged and driven. EMDR utilizes the learning capabilities of the brain to help process past experiences and integrate them into the present. These past negative experiences often influence our present thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations. Therefore, EMDR focuses on present concerns that are linked to the past. Processing during EMDR can help you break down barriers and emotional walls that are inhibiting you from living the life you want, a life that is emotionally healthy.
EMDR utilizes rapid sets of eye movements, just like what your eyes do during REM sleep, to help you re-process traumatic and disturbing experiences and images. When the body alternates between regular sleep and REM sleep, this pattern allows you to process things that are difficult for you. There are several different ways that the rapid eye movements, or bilateral stimulation, can occur. Some individuals will be comfortable using their eyes to follow the therapist’s fingers back and forth. Other therapists might have what is called a light bar in which a light flashes back and forth for the eyes to follow. Other methods of bilateral stimulation include tapping back and forth (on the legs, on hands, on arms), headphones with a sound alternating ears back and forth, or a tactile stimulator that vibrates back and forth in the palm of the hands. Miraculously, most people’s eyes will naturally start moving back and forth even if they are not directly using their eyes in this process!
Many individuals like the EMDR approach because there is far less talking than in traditional talk-therapy. It is undoubtedly difficult to discuss negative and disturbing memories, especially in detail. Therefore, with EMDR, the process requires basic statements about what you are noticing in your mind in that moment in between sets of bilateral stimulation. By alternating between sets of eye movements and short statements about what you are noticing in your mind, the process helps bring past memories to a more adaptive present perspective. In reality, the past negative experience does not even have to be described out loud! Once the negative experiences have been transitioned into a positive present perspective, you and your therapist will work together to incorporate these new insights into your daily life.
EMDR was originally developed in 1987 for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, EMDR has become successful in treating other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, phobias, and dissociation. It has even been used to treat addiction and pain. Anyone of virtually any age can participate in some form of EMDR treatment. The approach has been adapted for use with children, teens, and even couples.
If you are struggling with your past and it is greatly affecting your present, reach out to an EMDR therapist and discuss the process more in depth. EMDR might just be the therapeutic approach that will make all the difference in how you relate those past memories to your present, and ultimately your future.