EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an integrative psychotherapy approach for healing trauma. Extensive research has proven it an effective therapy. Trauma isn’t a life sentence. In fact, it can lead to positive personality changes. For example, some people who have experienced trauma have shown to have great optimism, positive emotional states and life satifaction. Others might experience more prosocial behaviours. This is called post traumatic growth. But only if we can move past the trauma into healing.
Trauma “In The Body”
EMDR therapy releases trauma that’s stuck in the body. When we experience a traumatic event, our body becomes stressed. Stress responses are a part of our natural fight, flight, or freeze instincts. Most of the time, we manage traumatic events or resolve it when we feel safe once again. In these cases, there is no need for therapy. But sometimes, we need help processing it. When distress from a disturbing event remains long after the event is over, we might feel overhwhelm. It feels like we are back in the that moment, or ”frozen in time”. Upsetting images, thoughts and emotions keep us stuck in the trauma loop and unable to move forward. It’s almost like our body doesn’t realize the traumatic event is over. Our nervous system doesn’t know that we are now safe.
How EMDR works
EMDR resolves trauma that’s making us relive the experience. It allows us to remember the event without the fight flight or freeze response felt from the original event. This is how it works. EMDR improves the communication between the amygdala (the alarm signal for stressful events) and the hippocampus (which assists with learning; including memories about safety and danger). And then with the prefrontal cortex (which analyzes and controls behavior and emotion). Basically, it lets all the systems in our body know that the traumatic event is over.
EMDR therapy allows us to process memories that might be keeping us stuck. And because of this, the normal healing process resumes. We still remember the traumatic experience. But we no longer “relive” the experience, with the distress we felt at the time.