Can EMDR Help Me?

By Stephanie Camins – MA, LPC  

verified by Psychology Today

Healing is possible with the help of EMDR therapy.  If you’re feeling stuck, or have tried other forms of therapy with only mediocre results, EMDR can help you uncover what is preventing you from moving forward in your life.  As a specialist in EMDR therapy, I will guide you in healing your body, mind and emotions. We have all experienced difficulties and tragedies at some point in our lives.  Trauma can be split into two categories – big  T’s and little t’s. The big T’s encompass what individuals may think of when they think of trauma such as witnessing or experiencing a violent act, being in a natural disaster or experiencing abuse. We are also impacted by all the small t’s in life such as – negative childhood experiences, bullying, failures, humiliation, shame, disappointment, being fired, divorce, bad relationships, car accidents and so on. 

What is EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.  EMDR focuses on processing negative memories that have become stuck and are impacting our functioning in relationships, career, and personal quality of life.  EMDR involves processing negative thoughts, feelings, and beliefs associated with a traumatic experience.   The first task is to desensitize or process those negative belief systems. The second is to increase positive, self-affirming thoughts and beliefs.  We can rewire your brain to process the negative memory and change your narrative to one that is empowering. EMDR is currently one of the most highly researched and documented forms of counseling. It is an evidence-based modality shown to be the most efficient trauma treatment we have. Originally developed for trauma, EMDR is now used for many things such as grief, depression, anxiety, emotional regulation, and high-performance goals.  

What problems can EMDR help with?

  • Depression
  • Unresolved Grief
  • Disturbing Memories
  • Pain Disorders
  • A traumatic life situation
  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Shame or Insecurity
  • Low Self Esteem
  • Low Work Performance

How will EMDR Benefit Me?

  • Gain full control of how you cope with stressful or distressing situations
  • Change your narrative from being powerless to being empowered
  • Find peace around very painful experiences.  
  • Increase your ability to establish trusting relationships
  • Gain the ability to regulate dysregulated responses
  • Eliminate trauma triggers
  • Remove long-standing blocks to performance
  • Eliminate self-sabotage and self-doubt
  • Increase your confidence and performance

How does EMDR work?

Emotional information from our environment is processed in the limbic system.  The job of the limbic system is to take in information, process it, and file it into memory banks.  It serves as a warning system for the rest of the brain.   When information comes in that is highly emotional in content, it is sent to your limbic system.  If this system is overwhelmed, it becomes unable to process memories.  When your limbic system gets stuck in fight-flight-freeze or appease that information will get stuck as an unprocessed memory. When an experience gets stuck in this state, our mind convinces us we are still reliving the original event in the present moment.  Time does not heal trauma.  The belief system stays in this stuck mode without treatment.  Trauma reactions, whether to small t’s or large T’s are not psychological responses or characterological responses, they are physical and biological responses.  The information now stuck in your nervous system leads to a cognitive shift in your belief system. This is where the negative self-beliefs come from. The goal of EMDR is to release unprocessed memories that the brain hasn’t digested and allow appropriate healthy connections to be made. EMDR does not change your memory, you will remember the negative incident, but it won’t have the intense negative charge to it that disrupts your nervous system.  One hypothesis is that eye movements (or other bilateral stimulation such as alternating hand buzzers) calm down parts of the limbic system so that it no longer blocks the processing of the memory.   Research is ongoing into the brain’s specific response during this process.  When we use EMDR to focus on traumatic memory, that unprocessed memory is taken out of the sensory and limbic areas of the brain and moved into the prefrontal cortex where our executive functioning takes place.  The memory is now filed appropriately within the memory system.  The memory no longer triggers adverse responses. Unprocessed, distressing memories can block you from making the most of your future.  Their impact is profound.  They cause difficulty in managing your responses to your current environment, including negative beliefs, thoughts, and physical sensations that get triggered in the present.  Common thoughts that result from unprocessed memories include, 
“I am helpless, I don’t have control, I am not good enough…I can’t snap out of it”, “I dont know whats wrong with me”– 
As this thought pattern firmly establishes itself in your daily life you start feeling worse and worse about yourself.  It’s very difficult to be a happy, well-adjusted, thriving person when the recurring thought in your mind is how terrible or inept you are.

What does an EMDR session look like?

EMDR is a body-based therapy, meaning we work with the physiology that creates the problem. Because it is a body-based treatment versus a verbally based treatment it also works well for people who have difficulty talking about thoughts and feelings.   The EMDR therapist uses bilateral stimulation which can be back and forth eye movements or hand buzzers which vibrate alternately between the left and right hands while you focus your attention on the past painful event. Bringing forth the painful memory in the therapy office with a safe person while in a safe environment pairs the painful memory with a feeling of safety. This in combination with the bilateral stimulation moves the memory from unprocessed to processed. The dual focus of EMDR enhances processing and relaxes the conscious mind with rhythmic bilateral stimulation. Physiologically your nervous system slows down, which allows your brain to release the unprocessed memory During each EMDR session, we create a roadmap that includes all of the following:
  1. Identify the current negative event, thought, feeling, or behavior that you are struggling with today
  2. Identify the triggering situation 
  3. Identify the negative belief or thought you have about yourself as a result of the negative thought and triggering event
  4. Identify a positive belief or thought you’d rather have about yourself
  5. Scale how true is this thought or belief for you currently (often it is low and in the second part of the EMDR process we work to process this positive belief until it is internalized and authentic.)
  6. Identify emotions associated with the triggering event and the negative thought
  7. Body scan -anywhere in your body you feel sensations or disturbance as you think of this event
  8. Scale how distressing this event is to you now
Once the roadmap is complete we begin the bilateral stimulation, I use hand buzzers, to process small chunks of information at a time. After 1 min of processing with the buzzers, I’ll ask what are you getting or where are you at? After a quick check-in we’ll identify the next target for processing.  This continues until the processing is complete. EMDR is a 3-pronged approach, meaning we focus on the past, present, and future.
  1. The past memory where the difficulty first occurred, 
  2. The present distress the past distress is causing (difficulty in a relationship, problems coping with stress, difficulty concentrating, etc)
  3. Developing more positive coping strategies for the future.

How long does EMDR take before I see results?

You will see benefits usually in 12-16 sessions but can be as low as 2-3.  The length of time depends on the complexity of the distress.  A single incident such as a car accident is processed more quickly than a situation that happened multiple times over a longer period such as bullying or social rejection or a harmful relationship.

Why use EMDR?

EMDR stimulates the information processing functions of the brain.  It is a very effective and efficient treatment. It allows for the rapid processing of fragmented memories, which commonly happens in distressing situations as described. Faster processing equals higher performance sooner rather than later. For more information please call to set up a consultation with me or you can also learn more at  Emdria.org See my Reading Recommendations

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