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EMDR: What is This Weird Voodoo Stuff?

I first learned about EMDR after a death in my own family. I was having trouble grieving and wanted some help. The therapist and I are fairly different. She is kind of a hippie and I’m kind of “basic” as my kids like to say. She suggested we try EMDR. I thought it was weird that following her hand back and forth was supposed to make me feel better, but I was willing to try it. After a couple of sessions I felt like I could breathe again. At the end of the second session I asked, “What is this weird voodoo treatment? I want to get trained in it!”

Woman's brown eye close up.

It turns out that EMDR isn’t actually weird voodoo, and that my hippie therapist wasn’t putting me in a new age trance. EMDR is all about brain science. Since being trained I’ve seen clients improve dramatically using EMDR for trauma, depression, worry, and even test anxiety.

Here’s some info straight from our website about what EMDR is and what you can expect if you come in for an EMDR session at Resolve.

What is EMDR?

The mind can often heal itself naturally, in the same way as the body does. Much of this natural coping mechanism occurs during sleep, particularly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Francine Shapiro developed Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) in 1987, utilising this natural process in order to successfully treat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Since then, EMDR has been used to effectively treat a wide range of mental health problems.

How does EMDR Help?

Most of the time your body routinely manages new information and experiences without you being aware of it. However, when something out of the ordinary occurs and you are traumatised by an overwhelming event  or by being repeatedly subjected to distress, your natural coping mechanism can become overloaded. This overloading can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in your brain or being “unprocessed”. Such unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in the limbic system of your brain in a “raw” and emotional form, rather than in a verbal “story” mode. This limbic system maintains traumatic memories in an isolated memory network that is associated with emotions and physical sensations, and which are disconnected from the brain’s cortex where we use language to store memories. The limbic system’s traumatic memories can be continually triggered when you experience events similar to the difficult experiences you have been through. Often the memory itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger or despair are continually triggered in the present. Your ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can therefore become inhibited. EMDR helps create the connections between your brain’s memory networks, enabling your brain to process the traumatic memory in a very natural way

What is a Session Like?

EMDR utilises the natural healing ability of your body. After we talk about what you’re going through, I will ask you  questions about a particular disturbing memory. Eye movements, similar to those during REM sleep, will be recreated simply by asking you to watch my fingers moving backwards and forwards across your visual field. Sometimes, a bar of moving lights, tactile “buzzies,”  or headphones are used instead. The eye movements will last for a short while and then stop. You will then be asked to report back on the experiences you have had during each of these sets of eye movements. Experiences during a session may include changes in thoughts, images and feelings. With repeated sets of eye movements, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory of an event in the past. Other associated memories may also heal at the same time. This linking of related memories can lead to a dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of your life.

During EMDR treatment, you will remain in control, fully alert and wide-awake. This is not a form of hypnosis and you can stop the process at any time. Throughout the session, the therapist will support and facilitate your own self-healing and intervene as little as possible. Reprocessing is usually experienced as something that happens spontaneously, and new connections and insights are felt to arise quite naturally from within. As a result, most people experience EMDR as being a natural and very empowering therapy.