What is EMDR therapy?
EMDR therapy, formally known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, is a method of psychotherapy that focuses on helping individuals work through the traumatic events that contribute to the severity of PTSD, panic disorders, anxiety, and depression.
Dr. Francine Shapiro was taking a walk one day and discovered that her troubling thoughts and feelings had mysteriously disappeared, but she was not sure why. After that realization, she started experimenting and found that when she rapidly moved her eyes back and forth while having a disturbing thought, the thought would go away. With those results, she worked to create a protocol that could be replicated and tested. That protocol is what we now know as EMDR Therapy.
How does it work?
When we become triggered by a traumatic experience, our pre-frontal cortex loses control over the activated amygdala and hippocampus. This means that we can become overwhelmed without processing things correctly. Therefore, traumatic events become trapped in the amygdala-hippocampal complex and can feel like they are happening in the present no matter when they took place originally. These “stuck” memories are filed away as unprocessed memories.
During the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep, normal memories are processed quickly. They do not become “stuck” and move easily in and out of the amygdala-hippocampal complex. Essentially, what an individual experiences during REM sleep is the same as what they experience during EMDR therapy. During EMDR therapy, you focus on a fragmented piece of memory while rapidly moving your eyes back and forth. Just as you do when you dream. This form of therapy gives the over-stimulated amygdala a chance to slow down and process through the traumatic memories just like you do with average memories.
Who can benefit from EMDR?
Although EMDR therapy primarily focuses on those who have suffered through traumatic experiences, there are plenty of other reasons why one might pursue EMDR therapy. The Dallas Therapy Collective compiled a list of some of these reasons.
- Single incident traumas (such as car accidents, destructive weather events, being robbed, etc.)
- Low self-esteem
- Relationship difficulties
- Domestic violence
- Performance enhancement (sports, music, etc.)
- Feeling stuck in life
- Childhood trauma
- Sexual assaults or physical assaults
- Social anxiety
- Feelings of rejection
- Trust issues/affairs
If you feel like talk therapy takes a lot out of you, it may be worth it to give EMDR therapy a try. If you have a therapist, this may be something to talk to them about at your next session. If you do not have a therapist, feel free to do your own research at the EMDR Institute.
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