EMDR stands for ‘Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing’. It is an approach that was developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980’s initially to treat individuals who had experienced various types of trauma. At this point in time it is considered to be the ‘gold standard’ of effective trauma treatment and has been widely researched particularly for those who experience PTSD. The focus ultimately is to help individuals to begin reprocessing the traumas they have experienced so the traumatic memories can be stored differently (and more effectively) in our brains.
When you think about PTSD, often the image of a soldier returning from combat comes to mind who relives traumas experienced in combat as if they are present in the moment. Sometimes a sound, like the backfiring of an engine, brings to mind the sound of gunfire and takes the soldier right back to the traumatic moment where it is relived again and again.
While this is a popular image when considering PTSD, trauma comes in many different forms and it is important to remember it is unique to the individual. One person may experience a traumatic event but be able to move through it and process it adequately so that it does not continue to intrude in any way on his or her daily life. Another person might experience the same event and find himself or herself stuck in that moment and unable to move beyond it. The reasons for this are many but often have to do with earlier experiences in our lives that have shaped how we respond to a traumatic experience. When this happens sometimes individuals get ‘stuck’ in the event and in the emotional part of our brain where time is absent and experiences are recorded in images, emotions and sensations. When the memories remain unprocessed, they are incomplete and can be retriggered/brought to mind again by a sound, a touch, a sensation, even a colour or smell, which somehow causes us to re-experience the trauma in the present moment.
Reprocessing involves taking those memories from the part of the brain that has stored them incompletely without a coherent sense of time to the part of the brain that is verbal and can re-organize the trauma story in a way that understands it has a beginning, middle, and most importantly, an end. With this, the trauma can ultimately be understood as a past event and can be filed in the rational, logical part of the brain. The memory doesn’t disappear; the triggers just lose much of their emotional power.
EMDR is being used to address many types of trauma-based issues. Along with PTSD, EMDR may be helpful in providing relief for ‘small t’ traumas that underlie different conditions ranging from depression to anxiety and developmental traumas.
At Brant Mental Health Solutions, we are now able to offer the S.A.F.E. approach to EMDR therapy which focuses on a Somatic and Attachment Focussed EMDR. Although it employs bilateral stimulation (rapid eye movement or tapping), EMDR is more than a specific technique, it is an overall approach to helping a client to reprocess traumatic memories so that they can experience relief from intrusive symptoms and achieve a greater freedom to move forward in life.
As always in therapy, the EMDR approach focuses on the importance of developing a relationship with clients and coming to understand their ‘window of tolerance’ – that space in which a client remains comfortable but challenged while not being overwhelmed. In order to achieve this, my role as a therapist involves helping you as a client to discover the resources that you contain within yourself and that surround you currently in your life that you use to manage distressing emotions and thoughts. I also work with you to discover new resources that can help you to remain feeling safe and secure even as you begin to process traumatic memories.
If you would like to find out more about this approach to trauma therapy through a free 15 minute consultation, please feel free to contact Brant Mental Health Solutions.
Jennifer Ackford RP, MA, BA