Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Trauma and EMDR

Cited from Barb Malberger’s book, EMDR Essentials: A Guide for Clients and Therapists (W.W. Norton & Company, 2008), chap. 1

TRAUMA is experienced whenever something happens that you are unable to process and you are left feeling in distress with symptoms that just won’t go away. The memory is stored in the brain and symptoms may be felt throughout the body. Thinking of this in terms of a body-mind connection, what we think and feel reflects our pains and joys through behaviors and thought patterns. In order to heal, you have to deal with the whole person, both the body and the mind.

Symptoms of unprocessed trauma memories include:

  • Inability to be assertive
  • Struggles with body image
  • Feeling anxious or depressed most of the time
  • Tendency to procrastinate
  • Behaviors that sabotage your efforts
  • A low tolerance for frustration or anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of interest in activities or goals
  • Fighting a lot and experiencing a lot of anger
  • Substances abuse (addictions)
  • Struggles with making decisions
  • Suicidal and self-abusive behaviors
  • Somatic illnesses (cells/nervous system)
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Feelings of panic


EMDR- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

What is EMDR?
Simply stated, EMDR refers to a method of counseling therapy that includes a technique called bilateral stimulation (BLS).

What is the purpose of EMDR?
EMDR is based on the premise that people inherently move toward health, and that given the opportunity, the brain knows how to heal on its own. Sometimes an event gets locked into our brain and for some reason can’t integrate and become a normal, processed memory. The event and all of the emotions and sensations associated with it are activated by a present-day stimulus (trigger)-the symptoms associated with the event reappear, often with negative effects. EMDR helps facilitate the brain’s inherent information processing system to move the traumatic memory from short-term memory (the present) into long-term memory (the past). Once the body-mind is able to recognize the traumatic event as being in the past, it is able to let go of emotionally disturbing symptoms as the present and future are no longer linked to the dysfunctional past.

How does EMDR work?
EMDR is something of a three-part treatment in that it deals simultaneously with the past, present, and future. As part of the healing process, a technique known as bilateral stimulation (BLS) is used to activate the brain so that it can begin processing and integrating dysfunctional stored information. BLS is sometimes referred to as dual attention stimulation (DAS) or eye movement desensitization (EMS), but regardless of what it is called, BLS consists of an alternating left-right stimulation of the body and the brain. BLS can be accomplished with eye movements, tones, music, hand pulsers, or touch. The client focuses on their internal state-usually a memory, an image, or a physical sensation-while the left and right sides of the body (and sometimes the left and right lobes of the brain) are stimulated in an alternating sequence. The speed and intensity of the stimulation varies depending on the client’s comfort and preferences. When EMDR was first discovered in 1987 by Francine Shapiro, she used eye movements exclusively to facilitate the processing of trauma. Her clients followed with just their eyes as she moved her fingers back and forth horizontally.

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