Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)
Are You A Prisoner of Your Memories? —
EMDR Therapy Can Help You Resolve Past Traumas
and Open the Door to Your Future!
As humans, all of us process information and experiences physiologically. Just as our digestive systems extract and process the vitamins and minerals we need from the food we eat, our brains process the multiple elements of our experiences and store memories in an accessible and useful form.
When unhealthy or dangerous foods aren't processed correctly by our digestive system, physical discomfort and disease can result. Similarly, if unhealthy or traumatic experiences aren't processed correctly, personality problems and mental and emotional disturbances can occur.
Memories are stored in linked networks in our brains, and are organized around the earliest related experiences and their associated effects. These memory networks contain related thoughts, images, emotions, and sensations.
Learning occurs when new associations are formed along with the material already stored in our memories.
When a traumatic event occurs, no matter how seemingly great or small — from being teased by peers or disparaged by parents to sexual abuse and physical violence — strong negative feelings or dissociation can interfere with our ability to process the information we receive during these experiences. The pictures, sounds, thoughts, and feelings of the experience often become locked in our nervous system.
For example, a combat veteran may "know" that they are not personally responsible for the horrors they witnessed in war, but this knowledge does not connect with the veteran's memories and associated feelings of guilt, fear, or anger.
These memories are considered to be dysfunctionally stored in the brain, in that they lack appropriate associative connections and some elements of the initial experience remain unprocessed.
When someone thinks about a trauma — or when a traumatic memory is triggered by similar situations — the person may experience strong emotions and physical sensations, as if he or she is reliving the event. A common example is the intrusive thoughts, emotional disturbance, and negative self-beliefs caused by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
When the information related to a distressing or traumatic experience is not fully processed, the initial perceptions, emotions, and distorted thoughts are stored as experienced at the time of the event.
Such unprocessed past experiences can result in personality problems and become the basis of dysfunctional reactions to experiences in the present.
Rewiring Your Brain for Future Gain —
Using Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy
to Unblock Past Experiences and Start Living in the Present
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment specifically designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories.
EMDR facilitates access to the traumatic memory network, enhances information processing, and allows the forming of new associations between the traumatic memory and more adaptive and beneficial information.
These new associations complete the previously unfinished processing of information, allow the elimination of emotional distress, and help learning and growth to occur.
EMDR uses a three-pronged approach to successful treatment:
- Past events that have laid the groundwork for present dysfunction are addressed and processed, forging new associative links with more adaptive and helpful information
- Current circumstances that elicit distress reactions are targeted, and the internal and external triggers are desensitized
- Templates of future events are created and incorporated in order to acquire the skills necessary for better, more adaptive functioning in daily life
Moving Beyond Theory — EMDR in Practice
So, now that we've covered the theory of how EMDR can reprocess past traumas and help you move forward with confidence into the future, let me explain how it works in practice.
During EMDR treatment, a client is asked to attend to emotionally disturbing material from the past or present in brief sequential doses while simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus.
In the Beginning
In EMDR treatment, I begin with a history-taking session during which we will assesses your readiness for EMDR and develop a treatment plan based on your specific needs.
The next step is to work together to identify "targets" that can benefit from EMDR processing. These can include recent distressing events, current situations that elicit emotional disturbance, related historical incidents, and the development of specific skills and behaviors that you will need in future situations.
Once the targets have been identified, I will provide adequate methods for handling emotional distress and good coping skills, and assure that you're in a relatively stable state.
If additional coping skills and stabilization are needed, treatment will focus on providing these before moving on. This is necessary so you are able to use stress-reducing techniques whenever necessary, either during or between sessions. However, one of the goals of treatment is for you to no longer need these techniques.
Techniques of Treatment
Once these first two steps are complete, you will be asked to focus on the memory you want to work on — along with the images, thoughts, feelings, and body sensations associated with the memory — while simultaneously moving your eyes back and forth for 20-30 seconds or more.
The eye movements or other bilateral stimulation we use in EMDR engage your attention with an external stimulus while you simultaneously focus on distressing internal material. The combination is necessary to unlock the nervous system and allow the mind and body to process the previously unprocessed experience.
(Although directed lateral eye movements are the most commonly used external stimulus, EMDR is not a simple procedure dominated by the use of eye movements. It is a complex treatment method that contains numerous components which contribute to success. I often use auditory tones, tapping, or other types of stimulation, and customize the type of dual attention and the length of each set depending upon the individual needs of my clients. Regardless of the external stimuli used, it is important to remember that although the therapist helps you create the necessary stimulus it is your own brain that does the healing and that you are the one in control.)
During each set, you will be instructed to simply notice whatever happens, without censoring it. This can be viewed as a mind-body free association, and is repeated numerous times throughout the session.
This non-directive, free-association method creates associative links between the original trauma and other related experiences and information, thereby contributing to you successfully processing the traumatic material.
At times I will stop you and ask you what is happening, to which you will simply report back your experience.
It is very important that you not judge or censor your experience. If you should ever become distressed or have difficulty with the process, I will help you stop and resume processing in a comfortable manner.
By letting your mind go blank and noticing whatever thought, feeling, image, memory, or sensation comes to mind, you cultivate a stabilized, neutral-observer stance, and this mindfulness promotes emotional processing.
We'll keep doing bilateral stimulation and check-ins until the memory you started with is no longer disturbing to you.
These repeated brief exposures provide clients with continuous practice in controlling and dismissing disturbing internal stimuli. This provides clients with a sense of mastery and increases the ability to reduce or manage negative reactions.
When you no longer report distress related to the targeted memory, I will ask you to think of the preferred positive belief that was identified at the beginning of the session — or a better one if it has emerged — and to focus on the incident, while simultaneously engaging in the eye movements.
This sequence of dual attention and personal association is repeated many times in the course of a session. And, after several sets, clients generally report increased confidence in the new, positive beliefs.
At the end of the first session, I ask clients to keep a journal during the week to document any related material that arises. I also remind them of the self-calming activities that were mastered in the beginning of the process in case they become necessary.
At the beginning of the following session (and each session thereafter), I re-evaluate the previous week's work with my clients, and examine any progress since that time.
EMDR treatment usually lasts from 4-12 sessions, and is designed specifically to help clients process all the historical events that are related to their dysfunctional memories, relieve current incidents that elicit distress, and prepare future scenarios that will require different responses.
The overall goal is for you to experience the most positive, comprehensive, and profound treatment effects possible in the shortest amount of time, while simultaneously maintaining your stability and functionality.
And it is not uncommon for the benefits of EMDR treatment to be felt within the first couple of sessions!
Can "Eye Movements" and "Free Association" Really Be Effectice? —
You Bet... And Not Just Effective, But Fast Too!
EMDR is now the most widely-researched psychotherapeutic treatment for PTSD.
Twenty controlled outcome studies have investigated the efficacy of EMDR in PTSD treatment. Sixteen of these have been published, and the preliminary findings of four have been presented at conferences. These studies all found EMDR superior to the control condition on measures of post-traumatic stress.
Two EMDR studies (Lee, Gavriel, Drummond, Richards, & Greenwald, 2002; Rothbaum, 1997) indicated an elimination of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 83-90% of civilian participants after only four to seven sessions.
Other studies using participants with PTSD (e.g. Ironson, Freund, Strauss, & Williams, 2002; Scheck, Schaeffer, & Gillette, 1998; S. A. Wilson, Becker, & Tinker, 1995) found EMDR significantly decreased a wide range of symptoms after just three-four sessions.
The only EMDR study (Carlson, Chemtob, Rusnak, Hedlund, & Muraoka, 1998) that addressed the multiple traumas of combat veterans reported that 12 sessions of treatment resulted in a 77% elimination of PTSD.
Of course, each one of us is a unique human being. Our experiences of the world are no one else's and we all process information and respond to events differently.
EMDR was developed specifically as a treatment for traumatic memories, and research has demonstrated its effectiveness in the treatment of PTSD.
While EMDR treatment has proven helpful in reducing or eliminating other disorders that originate from a distressing experience, different people with the same diagnosis respond to treatments differently. Additionally, people with multiple traumas or complex histories of childhood abuse, neglect, and poor attachment may require more extensive therapy.
That all having been said, EMDR's effectiveness in treating PTSD more efficiently than other treatment methods is well recognized.
EMDR can also be effective in treating anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias, but is more effective when these conditions are the result of a past traumatic event.
EMDR, like other therapeutic techniques, is not a one-session cure-all. However, upon completing EMDR therapy, clients often report that their emotional distress has been greatly decreased or eliminated entirely, and that they have gained important insights leading them to positive and lasting behavioral and personal change.
There's No Reason to Live Your Life in the Past —
Take the First Step in the Present & Move Confidently Into the Future
EMDR is a complex therapeutic treatment process, integrating elements of many traditional psychological orientations and combining these in structured protocols. These include psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, experiential, physiological, and interactional therapies.
What this all means is that EMDR contains many effective components, all of which contribute to a successful treatment outcome.
I have seen firsthand the fast and effective results EMDR provides, and have integrated EMDR into the broader treatment approach I offer clients.
Using EMDR, in conjunction with other therapeutic techniques, allows me to honor the unique therapeutic relationship I have with each individual that comes to me for therapy services. As with all therapeutic techniques, I consider it vital to use EMDR in ways that can be modified to fit the needs of my clients, rather than forcing clients into some rigid technical mold.
The purpose of EMDR is to help your brain establish new network links between previously unprocessed, dysfunctional memories and more beneficial, adaptive information.
Once this occurs, mental and emotional issues relating to past events are alleviated, previously disturbing memories and present situations should no longer be problematic, active learning can take place, and new healthy responses can be the norm.
EMDR can help you reduce and eliminate emotional distress, and gain important insights that lead to positive, lasting behavioral and personal change — today and in the days to come!
For more information about EMDR therapy, how it can help you take control of your life in the present and plan for the future, or to schedule an initial consultation, please contact me:
Haleh Rambod, MFT
2111 Geer Road, Suite 505-507
Turlock, CA 95382
4100 Moorpark Avenue, Suite 106
San Jose CA, 95117