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If You’ve Experienced Trauma, EMDR Might Be For You

If You’ve Experienced Trauma, EMDR Might Be For You

According to Merriam Webster, Trauma is defined as “a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury.” While it’s completely normal to have an adverse reaction immediately after a traumatic event, there can sometimes be longer-term reactions such as unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, or strained relationships. Sometimes trauma manifests through physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, sickness, or trouble moving on. Therapy is a great tool for recovering from and working through a traumatic event and some therapy strategies might work better for some people. 


One therapy strategy used to help people recover from trauma is EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. We are joined today by Stillpoint Counseling and Wellness Therapist Audrey Keeton, LCSW. She is our in-house EMDR specialist and is here today to answer some questions about EMDR therapy. 


What is EMDR?

EMDR is a type of therapy that helps people heal from symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.  


How Does Trauma Become ‘Locked’ in the Brain?

When trauma occurs, it can get locked in the brain with the original image, sounds, thoughts, and feelings.  When this happens, memories are re-experienced as opposed to just remembered.  Since the experience is locked there, it continues to be triggered whenever a reminder comes up. These improperly stored or stuck images, thoughts, or feelings are very distressing and can even cause flashbacks of the original event. It can be the basis for a lot of discomfort and sometimes a lot of negative emotions, such as fear and helplessness, that we can’t seem to control.  These are really the emotions connected with the old experience that are being triggered and a lot of the time has nothing to do with the present.

Disturbing events can be stored in the brain in an isolated memory network.  This prevents learning from taking place.  The old material just keeps getting triggered over and over again.  In another part of the brain, in a separate network, is most of the information you need to resolve it.  It’s just prevented from linking up to the old stuff.  Once we start processing with EMDR, the two networks can link up.  New information can come to mind and resolve old problems.


How Does EMDR Work to Help ‘Unlock’ the Trauma?

EMDR works by helping the brain store the information properly so that it feels like it is in the past and relies on the brain’s original function: to process very effectively in order to ensure the survival of our species. Like the body’s ability to heal a cut, the brain is able to find a way to deal with even the most difficult of experiences.  This gets de-railed when emotion overwhelms the brain but it gets stimulated by bi-lateral information coming in.

EMDR uses bilateral stimulation so that both the left (logic) and right (emotions) sides of the brain get involved in processing the memory:  the right side of the brain allows you to experience the emotions and the left side of the brain adds the logical thinking that puts something in perspective.


What Can One Expect During an EMDR Session?

EMDR sessions can last anywhere from 60-90 minutes. The therapist will move their fingers in front of a client’s face while the client follows the therapists’ finger with their eyes as they recall the trauma they experienced. The therapist will sometimes tell them to think about the physical feelings or imagery that go along with this trauma. The therapist will guide you through thinking about the event which will eventually lead to various memories associated with the trauma. Some therapists will use tapping along with the eye movements to help focus on processing the trauma memory.

The eye movements, or tapping, that we use in EMDR seem to unlock the system and allows the brain to process the experience.  This might be what is happening in REM or dream sleep:  the eye movements may help to process the unconscious material.


If you’re interested in EMDR therapy or would like to learn more about how EMDR might be able to benefit you, request an appointment with Audrey today!