EMDR in Santa Rosa, CA ~ Sonoma County
EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, is a therapeutic approach developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. in the late 1980’s. Shapiro observed that highly charged memories (i.e., traumatic memories) resulting from negative life experiences become less charged with certain eye movements. Eye movements in EMDR are one form of bilateral stimulation (BLS)—that is, alternating stimulation of the left and right sides of the brain. Other forms of BLS are also used today: the therapist may tap alternating sides of the client’s body; the client may wear headphones that provide beeping or clicking in alternating ears; or the client may hold two small paddles that provide a pulse of alternating vibration to each of the client’s hands.
EMDR is based on the theory that, during overwhelming experiences, information is improperly stored in our memory network. It is thought that the information is stored in an unprocessed form, disconnected from other adaptive memories we have of ourselves. When triggered, the memory is re-experienced as if it is happening now, rather than being remembered as something that happened in the past. This is what we call a flashback. Even if someone does not have frank flashbacks, unprocessed information in the memory network exercises great influence over how we think, feel, and behave in the world. EMDR works to integrate, digest, or metabolize the faultily stored information so that the memory becomes like any of our other memories—stories we have about our past experience.
It is not clear how BLS accelerates this integration process; however, different theories, which are too extensive to discuss here, have been proposed. Since the early days of its development, EMDR has evolved and is now used to help clients with a wide range of issues. These include: obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety, panic attacks, personality disorders, phobias, chronic pain, agoraphobia, addiction, performance anxiety, erectile dysfunction, body image problems, and relationship problems. In my practice, I have successfully helped individuals struggling with many of the above issues with EMDR.
EMDR involves eight phases. During the reprocessing phase, the client focuses on a particular target memory that relates to the presenting problem, paying close attention to negative thoughts associated with the memory, the way it feels in the moment, and any bodily sensations that come with the memory. BLS is then offered, and the client pays attention to their experience during BLS. The therapist guides this process, which is repeated until the memory loses its charge, usually over the course of one to two sessions. Over time, targeting various memories associated with a particular problem leads to a reduction of symptoms and increased sense of self-efficacy. Gains are often profound—for example, in my practice I have worked with individuals who, after as few as three EMDR sessions, have gone from obsessing for up to eight hours per day to not thinking about their obsessions at all. Although results vary from client to client, EMDR is a powerful approach to trauma and anxiety resolution.
I hope you find this information about EMDR useful. Please contact me if you are interested in learning more about how I integrate EMDR into my psychotherapy practice.