Danijela Mudri-Nicin, LMFT
You Have Probably Heard of EMDR Therapy
In the same way that clients change and grow through the therapy process, therapists change their approach to psychotherapy. They learn different therapy modalities, develop different skills, and search for their signature approach over the course of their careers. As a therapist with international experience in working with trauma survivors, I have always felt a need to find the single most effective therapy approach that will really work and provide long term results.
Over the years, I have started understanding better and agreeing more with the idea that to promote change and progress, a therapist must bring their authentic self into the healing therapeutic relationship with the client. At the same time, I have also wished that there was something of a panacea (a cure-all) for every possible issue that people might seek therapy for. Unfortunately, despite all the promises that new marketing rules allow, there is no such thing! However, I have had the privilege of discovering a therapy model that is so powerful, that is based in our natural capacity to heal, and is often more effective than traditional therapy models. The moment I learned about EMDR therapy, it made more sense to me than any other therapeutic model I had been trained in before.
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and was developed by Francine Shapiro in 1989. EMDR therapy is an empirically validated therapy model and can only be conducted by EMDR-trained or certified therapists. EMDR was originally established as a treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but over time, has been proven to be effective with many other psychological issues as well. EMDR therapy is based on the Adaptive Information Processing model, which posits that the primary foundations of mental health disorders (except those organically based), are unprocessed memories of previous adverse life experiences. When negative memories remain unprocessed, or stuck, we can start experiencing symptoms of trauma, such as feeling unsafe, jumpy, irritable, sad, triggered, and struggling with unwanted flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, etc.
EMDR therapy helps the brain process these memories by stimulating the natural healing process. Initially, it was found that side-to-side eye movements while focusing on the disturbing memory, reinforced the processing effect. Nowadays, especially with remote EMDR therapy provided via telehealth, we have more evidence showing the efficacy of other forms of bilateral stimulation, such as bilaterally induced sound or self-induced tapping (known as the Butterfly Hug technique). As a result of processing, we see that the once vivid and disturbing memory becomes less intense and less emotionally charged. It becomes “processed” and integrated in our memory network as any other life experience. The amount of time the complete treatment will take depends on the client’s trauma history. Some people come to therapy to process a single incident of trauma such as a car accident, while others might have survived years of abuse.
It’s important to note that in EMDR therapy, the focus is not just on the past trauma, but also on the effects it has on our present functioning and our ability to handle similar situations in the future. It includes a specific structure and uses standardized protocols for treatment. As much as we all want instant results, trauma therapy always requires time and is best when it follows the client’s pace. After a thorough assessment and equipping the client with a good arsenal of coping skills, the therapist guides the client through each phase of treatment. Attention is given to a negative memory (in the form of an image, smell, sound or any “frozen” mode), the negative beliefs about one’s self in relation to the event, feelings and body sensation, as well as a positive belief regarding the past memory and one’s future functioning. Over the course of the treatment, the memory becomes less disturbing, the negative beliefs shift into positive ones, and feelings and body sensations are “cleared.” Sounds magical, right?!
Negative life experiences sometimes change our worldview, our beliefs about ourselves and others, and drive our feelings and behaviors in a way that is not helpful in the long run. It is a tremendous pleasure to hear clients growing and say, “it’s not my fault, I am enough, I can handle it,” and other positive beliefs resulting from the reprocessed trauma. Can you imagine life starting to feel good again? Can you imagine smiling again while breathing deeply and freely with relaxed shoulders? Can you imagine being able to recognize but not react to triggers from the past? Many trauma survivors say that EMDR therapy helped them regain the balance between their feelings and their reactions to them. And although it’s not a panacea, EMDR is a therapy that can give us the opportunity to place our past where it belongs, and move on with life with a new sense of connection, power, peace, and hope.
If you struggle with PTSD, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, or grief that you have never fully allowed yourself to face, EMDR therapy might be a good option for you. Your EMDR therapist can help you to process those painful experiences that continue impacting you daily, because those experiences do not deserve that power! You deserve to feel safe, strong, capable, confident, loved, and important again!