Eye Movement Desensitization
What is EMDR?
EMDR is the acronym for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1987, after experiencing relief from her own painful memories as she walked in the woods. She was moving her eyes from side to side as she thought about some events and the eye movements seem to help. When Shapiro recalled her traumatic memories, her eye movements appeared to correspond with the memories becoming less and less bothersome. She began to study the method and eventually did case studies and clinical research on the technique.
Our brains have a natural way to recover from traumatic memories and events. This process involves communication between the amygdala (the alarm signal for stressful events), the hippocampus (which assists with learning, including memories about safety and danger), and the prefrontal cortex (which analyzes and controls behavior and emotion). While many times traumatic experiences can be managed and resolved spontaneously, they may not be processed without help. Stress responses are part of our natural fight, flight, or freeze instincts. When distress from a disturbing event remains, the upsetting images, thoughts, and emotions may create feelings of overwhelm, of being back in that moment, or of being “frozen in time.” EMDR therapy helps the brain process these memories, and allows normal healing to resume. The experience is still remembered, but the fight, flight, or freeze response from the original event is resolved.” EMDRIA.org
How Does EMDR Work?
EMDR therapy does not require talking in detail about the distressing issue, or homework between sessions. EMDR, rather than focusing on changing the emotions, thoughts, or behaviors resulting from the distressing issue, allows the brain to resume its natural healing process. EMDR therapy is designed to resolve unprocessed traumatic memories in the brain. Part of the therapy includes alternating eye movements, sounds, or taps. For many clients, EMDR therapy can be completed in fewer sessions than other psychotherapies. EMDRIA.org
The eye movements we use in EMDR seem to unlock the nervous system and allow your brain to process the experience. That may be what is happening in REM, or dream, sleep: 'The eye movements may be involved in processing the unconscious material. The important thing to remember is that it is your own brain that will be doing the healing and you are the one in control." Francine Shapiro, EMDR Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures, 2001.
There are 8 specific phases to the EMDR process of working through distressing events. Although this seems like a lot, the phases include processes that are governed by most therapy sessions prior to working through trauma. These include history taking, treatment planning, and preparation. The therapeutic relationship is also strengthened during this process and before accessing the disturbance.
Bilateral stimulation can occur visually (watching fingers across your field of vision); auditory (music with sounds alternating in the left and right ear), or sensory (using electronic buzzers - tappers, or by manually tapping on the client's knees, ankles, hands, etc. The stimulation that occurs activates both hemispheres of the brain while bypassing the prefrontal cortex, allowing access to the emotionally disturbing material while also creating new associative links.
The information/memory is reprocessed and reintegrated into a healthier, functioning way. As a result, when you think about that memory it no longer holds the emotional intensity. It becomes a memory in your chapter-book called life.
What's the difference between Brainspotting and EMDR?
EMDR and Brainspotting have both differences and similarities. Both are great tools to resolve trauma.
EMDR has as an 8-phase framework. With Brainspotting, everything is included in the framework. EMDR uses eye movements where BSP has visual fixation. ; both start with therapy planning or discussing the issue. Both require a therapeutic relationship. Both view safety and stability as a necessary tool; and both reprocess the traumatic experiences.
Brainspotting has roots in Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR). Brainspotting and EMDR reprocess negative experiences and access deeply stored emotional, somatic, traumatic and often subconscious information. EMDR and Brainspotting are considered advanced brain-body based modalities. The primary difference between the two involves the procedure used.
Brainspotting is more organic and intuitive. The client can process in silence or periodically talk about what is coming up. There is no right or wrong, nor are there any specific steps in this process.
EMDR is more structured. EMDR follows an 8-phase protocol guided by the therapist. While Brainspotting involves a focused eye position, EMDR involves rapid bilateral movement of the eyes, auditory or sensory system.
As a practitioner of both EMDR and Brainspotting, I have witnessed success with both modalities. If you prefer a more structured approach EMDR may be a better fit. If you prefer something more organic, Brainspotting may be a better fit. Either way, let's have a discussion to see which is a better fit for you!
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