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How to Use EMDR Therapy

A brain illustrates how EMDR can rewrite neural pathways

Getty/libre de droit

EMDR takes traumatic memories and removes the anxiety connected with them. It can create healing that seems magical.

When pastor and author Deborah Loyd began experiencing different disaster scenarios continually dancing in her brain, she found herself pondering, “If this happened, how would I escape? Could I talk my way out of this or that?” When her friends would ask her why she was thinking like this, she had no answer.

Then she started getting night terrors, which she describes as menacing ugly creatures who aggressively pursued her. “I would scream in my sleep, blood-curdling screams. This would wake everyone in the house. I awoke confused, not being able to readily discern the authentic from the imagined.”

She knew she had to get help, and her therapist recommended EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). Loyd describes her recovery: “After about four sessions I noticed an easing and then fading of my daytime torment, as well as my night terrors, which eventually faded from my sleep. I attribute this recovery to EMDR, which is magical!”

Jackie Paris, a therapist and licensed EMDR practitioner, describes EMDR as “a very results-oriented treatment that helps people process incidents that produce emotional responses to a particular trigger.” Through EMDR, people can change how they respond to this given trigger.

For instance, someone who was in a car accident may be very anxious every time they get behind a wheel. “Often after an EMDR session, their anxiety will come way down and may even be gone. Then they will be able to drive without feeling so heavy,” Paris notes.

What Is EMDR?

Unlike traditional talk therapy, EMDR is more structured, with a cognitive behavioral component that focuses on bodily reactions. EMDR uses either visual stimulation, with someone's eyes going back and forth, or auditory stimulation, with noises alternating between the ears.

According to Paris, “Biomechanical stimulations of the right and the left hemispheres of the brain kind of rewire the neural pathways. We do this while someone recalls and processes a negative experience, and we find this changes the way this experience is stored in their brain.”

Often after a session, clients will tell Paris things like, “I feel like a big weight’s been lifted off me” or “I feel so much better, but I can't explain it.” Some of her sessions invoke a spiritual experience, in which people enter into an altered state, with some client’s claiming to experience light coming into their bodies. “This really shifts how they feel, as though they are becoming embodied with this beautiful light that is healing for them,” Paris says.

At times an individual’s past life regressions may come to the surface. For example, someone who never had any personal experience that would cause them to fear water may recall an experience where they almost drowned. Other times people see themselves at different times in history or hear the deceased speak to them.

Measuring the Success of EMDR

During an EMDR session, clients are asked to measure the extent of their responses to an emotional trigger on a scale of zero to ten. “Often people are highly emotionally charged at the beginning of the session. By the end of the session, they’re more settled when they reflect on this particular trigger,” Paris reflects.

In her practice, Paris finds EMDR most helpful for treating PTSD. However, she has also found that it can be beneficial for those suffering from panic attacks and anxiety. She cautions that EMDR is not for the faint of heart, “You’ve got to relive like the worst experiences of your life.” The client must have an intact ego and be willing to go through these experiences. This technique does not work as well with those who have depressive symptoms or dissociative identity disorders.

Once the client gets to a point where their response to the emotional trigger is zero, then the EMDR sessions are no longer needed. However, sometimes after processing one trigger, a client may wish to work on another trigger.

While this therapeutic technique may sound easy to do, Paris points to the dangers of self-administering EMDR. “A lot of people lose access to their rational mind while they're in an intense emotional process,” she says.

Following a session, Paris recommends that her clients tap into the inner resources they have at their disposal to continue on their path towards wellness.

Finding an EMDR Therapist

Finding a therapist experienced with this practice is important. You need to feel they’re competent and have adequate training in rewiring the brain using EMDR.

Look for a therapist who you can feel connected to energetically. “You should feel the therapist is on your side and they’ve got your back,” Paris adds. Ask yourself these questions: Do I resonate with this therapist? Do they understand me? Do I feel safe?

More from Becky Garrison: "Being Mindful of Toxic Positivity"



This entry is tagged with:
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