You struggle with memories from the past and talking about it, hasn't helped. What if there was a way to heal your brain, your memory and your heart from the past without rehashing it every time. That's where EMDR comes in…
What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an 8-phase psychotherapeutic treatment approach originally designed for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and used to treat other difficulties like addiction, anxiety, depression, adverse childhood experiences, grief and loss, and eating disorders. EMDR uses Bilateral Stimulation (BLS), which means that a person will be provided sensory input on both sides of the body, in the form of visual, audio, or tactile sensory input in order to assist in a person’s ability to connect and resolve beliefs, physiological sensations, thoughts, or feelings that occur due to traumatic exposure.
We provide EMDR therapy at our Bryn Mawr and West Chester, Pa locations.
EMDR Trauma Therapy
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a method of treatment that has gained more popularity over the last several years. EMDR is a treatment that appears to have come out of the woodwork suddenly and unexpectedly, but it’s been around since the early 90’s. There are many mental health professionals and people seeking mental health help who are skeptical about EMDR as a treatment and those who swear by it. I talk with my clients regularly about what EMDR is, what it can do for some people, and, most importantly, what it is not.
Does EMDR work?
Let’s debunk some myths about EMDR:
Myth: EMDR will help me forget _________.
EMDR cannot erase or change anyone’s personal experience or history. The past has already occurred and cannot be rewritten. However, what EMDR can do is help us organize past, present, and future. Francine Shapiro originally designed and studied EMDR in 1989 as a treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those affected by PTSD have experienced a neuropsychological brain shift that can make it mildly to severely difficult to process time and memory. EMDR is one treatment method that can help decrease the current intensity of a past experience or help us feel an appropriate recognition of an event happening in the past and not feel so tied to that event today.
Myth: I can get EMDR immediately.
EMDR has a training process and a protocol. Those who are trained in EMDR are also trained in how to prepare someone for EMDR. There may be some people who can move into EMDR immediately, however this is not the case for most of us. The preparation phase of EMDR is a necessary part of EMDR treatment because it allows us to build up our own personal toolbox of helpful coping skills and resources before reprocessing (using bilateral stimulation) the past, present, and future. It is also very difficult to participate in EMDR without establishing trust in the room. Those of us living with childhood trauma, for example, take time to learn how to trust someone before we let them in. There are times when our bodies might feel unsafe while going through EMDR, so we need to know that we are in a safe place which cannot happen without having a trusting relationship with our therapist and having some tools to use in order to stay somewhat grounded and connected to ourselves and our bodies.
Myth: EMDR will address all my concerns/EMDR is the only way to get through this.
EMDR is not a one-stop shop. EMDR is one approach to resolving childhood trauma, adult trauma, intense anxiety, or intrusive, self-destructive thoughts. Internal Family Systems (IFS), Yoga Therapy, Mindfulness-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (M-CBT), Narrative Therapy, and Prolonged Exposure Therapy are all methods of therapy that can help immensely, depending on the person. There is no one treatment for all and good therapists will hopefully learn who you are and use a combination based on what is most helpful to you. Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist and researcher of PTSD, noted that “[identifying myself with EMDR] would be like a carpenter saying he was a ‘hammer carpenter’. We need many different tools that will work”.
Myth: EMDR is only for people with PTSD.
How we define ‘trauma’ varies from person to person. PTSD is a formal diagnosis and way to categorize a set of experiences. Not everyone who has experienced trauma will be diagnosed with PTSD, however that does not mean that we are unaffected when we’ve experienced trauma. Trauma is not solely referring to someone who has experienced combat even though that is how EMDR was originally utilized. For example, some adults living with childhood trauma have the experience of rationalizing or minimizing personal experiences. Have you ever had a thought similar to: “what I went through wasn’t as bad as (insert comparison)… I ‘shouldn’t’ be feeling/thinking/acting this way”? The general definition of trauma is “experiencing a disturbing or distressing experience” and experiencing trauma can have long-term consequences. This can range from the loss of someone or something in our life, life transitions that feel hard to cope with, witnessing or hearing about the death of someone, witnessing or hearing about an intensely distressing event, early childhood feelings of fear or anger, sexual assault, violence, or encountering anything that may threaten our feeling of safety and security. The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study created a childhood trauma questionnaire in order to better understand the long-term effects of experiencing childhood trauma in adults. EMDR is one way we can work to resolving trauma by connecting and reprocessing the beliefs we have acquired through our exposure to trauma, the physiological and somatic experiences we have related to those beliefs, and our current thoughts and feelings that can sometimes keep us stuck in ways we don’t want.
Myth: EMDR will fix me.
You are not broken; therefore, you do not need to be fixed. Some may read that last sentence and roll their eyes or read that sentence and understand the words without them feeling true. Feeling broken, flawed or ‘there’s something wrong with me’ is a very real experience. I talk with clients about the experience of the ‘other’ – it can feel like there’s something ‘other’ that is part of me that won’t go away. That sense of ‘wrong’ or ‘other’ is like a piece of glass stuck in a wound that we can’t get out. We didn’t put that glass there knowingly but there it is and now it’s been there so long that it feels like part of us even though it’s not. I’ve heard this put best in the phrase: we may not be responsible for our wounds and we are responsible for our healing. EMDR does not ‘fix’, it is one way to allow your mind, brain, and body to connect with each other in order to do what your whole self does best: heal. Think of it this way, when you get a cut do you have to will yourself to heal? No – your body naturally has the ability to use your cells to heal the parts that need healing. If you have cuts or scars from some time ago, notice how they’ve started to heal. Some of them may be faded; some may not be but know that our body has a natural inclination towards healing as long as we let our body do what our bodies do best. EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to help our brain and body talk to our whole self in order to do exactly what our brain and body does best.
Does EMDR work?
EMDR has undergone and continues to undergo scientific clinical trials. The clinical trials continue to uphold that EMDR is significantly successful for people compared to people that participate in only talk therapy or undergo no psychotherapy or treatment at all. EMDR findings also show that EMDR is as successful as other evidence-based treatments such as M-CBT, IFS, Yoga Therapy, Psychodrama, Narrative Therapy, and Prolonged Exposure Therapy. The result: getting help for something that you’re struggling with will always lead to better results than staying in it.
EMDR Success Rate
EMDR is an evidence-based practice that has been proven to have about an 80% success rate. This depends on what you consider successful as well, though. Many clients report a major amount of symptom reduction. For example, when clients engage in EMDR therapy for anxiety or EMDR trauma therapy, many in our Bryn Mawr and West Chester offices report that they had intense anxiety and PTSD symptoms before doing EMDR therapy and once completed, most report little to no trauma symptoms whatsoever! Some of them have said that the EMDR therapy helped them to cope with anxiety and trauma much better than they had previously.
EMDR Side Effects and Dangers of EMDR Therapy
Just like therapy, emotions and experiences, EMDR effects everyone differently. Many of our clients in Bryn Mawr and West Chester told us that they feels tired after EMDR therapy. Some said that they had no side effects at all. Some reported that they had heightened emotions for the next several days to a week. Some said that they had some memory flooding once they started EMDR, but most said this phenomena slowed down and eventually dissipated once they processed the memories in therapy or just as time went on. Of course, there were some clients who struggled with their memories and emotions and needed some extra therapeutic support. Of the worst side effects, there was increased dissociation experiences. However, if the EMDR therapy is done thoroughly and correctly, the trauma therapists should be resourcing clients intensely BEFORE they start EMDR so that clients learn how to deal with increased emotions and memories before they experience them and are able to tolerate these side effects. At Spilove Psychotherapy in Bryn Mawr and West Chester, our EMDR specialists have all attended EMDR training that are EMDRIA approved. This means that our clinicians know how to apply EMDR therapy appropriately, setting up our clients for success and healing.
At Spilove Psychotherapy, our EMDR therapists provide EMDR Trauma Therapy at our Bryn Mawr and West Chester, Pennsylvania locations. If your looking for help with PTSD, anxiety or grief and loss symptoms, schedule your first appointment at our Bryn Mawr or West Chester location, click here:
Nicole Martin is an EMDR Trauma Specialist who works with people healing from childhood abuse, incest survivors, people struggling with tragic grief and loss, addictions and adult children of alcoholics. Nicole obtained her Masters from Bryn Mawr College and loves empowering people to heal from complex traumas.