EMDR? What’s that?

Before I learned Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing, I had considerable success in treating victims of childhood trauma. Yet, there were always some aspects of trauma remaining. People were still triggered into panic by sounds, smells or sights which are benign in the present but propell them back into a terrifying past. This happens so fast there is no time to think about it. As well, their exaggerated startle response to any sudden noise remained.

What wasn’t known back when I was using standard therapies, is that trauma is held in the right side of the brain, the emotional side. The trauma does not have access to the left brain, the logical, cognitive side. It’s only an eighth of an inch between the two halves, but the spark can’t jump the gap, so to speak. EMDR allows the right side to connect with the left and “reprocess” the experience.

How is this done? EMDR treatment involves the bi-lateral stimulation of the brain: left side, right side by directing the eyes from side to side, tapping the hands, using headphones to send sound to the left and then to the right ear. This bi-lateral stimulation uses the brain’s natural way of dealing with upsetting emotion. Think of the rapid eye movement when someone is dreaming. Dreaming is not enough to handle the terror of trauma. The brain needs added help to clear the emotion.

EMDR takes advantage of the brain’s natural way of dealing with emotion. The EMDR practitioner guides the client’s eyes with her fingers, a light wand or a light bar. Sometimes the practitioner uses light tapping on the hands or knees.

Typically, clients start out very upset by the memory and end up putting the upset in the past where it belongs. Measuring the degree of upset on a scale of 0 – 10, people may start out with a 10 and end up with a 0 or 1.

Practitioners of EMDR specialize in helping clients heal from psychological trauma. They are psychotherapists with a thorough understanding of trauma and its effects on people. The eye movement described in this post is safe only in the hands of such professionals.

You can find out more on the EMDR website at www.emdr.org.

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