According to Francine Shapiro, the founder of EMDR therapy, “people look for help because of something in the present. Basically, they are doing, feeling, or thinking something they know is destructive, but they can’t stop.” If you have been working hard in talk therapy and know what you should do/feel/think but it’s not happening, it may be that you are using intellect to solve a body problem and EMDR could be the solution.
Like the body, the human brain is innately wired to constantly move towards a healthy state. We want to make sense out of our struggles and learn from our mistakes. For some reason, certain traumatic events in our life can cause an imbalance in the nervous system which disrupts this natural processing. It’s as if the event and all responses to it are frozen in time, developmentally, in a hyper-aroused state. When this happens, a similar event in the present - where there is no longer any danger - can trigger that same physical and emotional response from the past.
We don’t know enough about the brain to understand how EMDR works but evidence shows that it is an effective treatment for those suffering from PTSD or disturbing childhood experiences. I have also found it useful in treating anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Brain studies have shown that EMDR increases hippocampal volume, which trauma actually decreases. The magnitude of the original trauma is not a factor, as some people are trigged merely by a comment that reminds them of a painful childhood memory, others by fireworks that trigger their memories of war. It’s how the memory is stored that matters.
EMDR sessions differ from traditional talk therapy in many ways. Instead of reflecting and processing thoughts, you just observe and notice thoughts or body sensations that arise during bi-lateral stimulation. Processing is generally much quicker (four sessions of talk therapy are the equivalent of generally one EMDR session).
Clients report that EMDR sessions have helped them “digest” old experiences that have kept them stuck or are driving their behaviors in unwanted directions. I am constantly in awe of the power of these sessions; as I witness a transformation from pain to insight; from being stuck to moving forward.
Find out if you are a good candidate for EMDR. Maybe it’s time to let your body do the work and give your mind a rest. The past does not always have to be present.