Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a specialized evidence-based approach to treating Trauma.
What is EMDR therapy?
This therapeutic method incorporates bi-lateral stimulation (typically eye movements) while focusing on isolated traumatic memories. Eye-movements simulate our body's natural REM cycles (random eye movements) where the information from our day is usually processed in our sleep. In this therapy, we are taking this natural process into the waking state to help you process the events that your mind could not. EMDR’s goal is to help you heal from disturbing life experiences by reducing the stress response to specific memories, and helping the mind develop new and adaptive associations. Dozens of clinical trials since EMDR’s development prove this technique to be highly effective at resolving mental health disturbances faster than many other treatment methods.
EMDR can help with a wide range of mental health conditions other than trauma including anxiety, depression, addictions, etc. Furthermore, this model of therapy does not require talking in detail about a distressing issue if a client does not wish to. EMDR instead focuses on identifying the root cause of suffering in order to target and alter the emotions, thoughts, core beliefs, somatic responses, and behaviors that result from a distressing experience or traumatic event. This allows your brain to resume its natural healing process which was disrupted by the stressor to begin with.
The way your mind responds to traumatic stress relies on many factors including genetics, temperament, environment, support resources and resiliency. A tremendous amount of energy is mobilized to survival when we are threatened which causes parts of the brain involved with memory, emotional response, social behavior, personality, somatic impulses, and decision-making to become activated. EMDR targets these very symptoms to assist the mind and nervous system in completing the cycles of processing + regulating which it was unable to do at the time in a heightened state of reduced functionality.
When undergoing EMDR, you will work with your therapist to identify specific core memories, negative beliefs, and symptoms stemming from a traumatic event to focus on or "target". Combined with bilateral stimulation (eye movements, tapping, or audible sounds) and guided instructions, accessing those memories helps you reprocess what your mind was unable to effectively deal with. Reprocessing helps repair the mental injury from that memory and reduces the amygdala's response to the stressor(s). Remembering what happened to you will no longer feel like reliving it, and will be much more tolerable and manageable in comparison. Of course, we can never forget what happened to us. But we can drastically "turn down the volume" on the pain and subsequently improve your quality of life and level of functioning.
Adaptive Information Processing
EMDR relies on the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model, a theory about how your brain stores memories. This theory, developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., who also developed EMDR, recognizes that your brain stores normal and traumatic memories differently and ineffectually.
During normal events, your brain stores memories smoothly without issue. It also networks them, so they connect to other things you remember. During disturbing or upsetting events, that networking doesn’t happen correctly. The brain can go “offline,” and there’s a disconnect between what you experience (feel, hear, see, smell, taste) and what your brain stores in memory through language.
Often, your brain stores traumatic memories in a way that doesn’t allow for the information to be fully processed which prevents you from moving on. Trauma is like a wound that your brain hasn’t been allowed to heal. Because it didn’t have the chance to heal, your brain didn’t receive the message that the danger was over. This results in a host of symptoms including but not limited to flashbacks (emotional and imaginal), behavioral, somatic, cognitive and relational disruptions.
Newer experiences can link up to earlier trauma experiences and subsequently reinforce a negative experience over and over again. That disrupts the links between your senses and memories, strengthening the traumatic response. It also acts as an injury to your mind. And just like your body is sensitive to pain from an injury, your mind has a higher sensitivity to things you saw, heard, smelled, or felt during a trauma-related event.
This happens not only with events you can remember but also with suppressed memories and unconscious processes that often result from trauma. Much like how you learn not to touch a hot stove because it burns your hand, your mind tries to suppress memories to avoid accessing them because they’re painful or upsetting. However, the suppression isn’t perfect, meaning the “injury” can still cause negative symptoms, emotions, and behaviors. EMDR is believed to help the mind overcome these challenges by processing and storing traumatic information adaptively as any other event would be.
What is the "s.a.f.e" model of emdr?
Michelle is trained in the S.A.F.E. model which stands for Somatic and Attachment-Focused EMDR. This is a specialized model of the therapeutic modality which incorporates skills, intervention, and theory from Somatic Psychology and Attachment Theory for a well rounded approach to treating trauma.
In Somatic Psychology, the focus is on the impact of the physical body and nervous system in regards to trauma and various other mental health conditions. Additionally, when treating Trauma, especially Complex Trauma or CPTSD, a focus on the nature and understanding of attachment is paramount to the healing process as this is almost always rooted in attachment wounding.
This style of EMDR addresses all aspects of the person which are impacted by trauma - the brain (cognitions, memories, and psychological programming due to life experiences), the physical body (the nervous system and various other systemic processes which are linked to trauma), and the heart or "spirit" of a person (the emotional, spiritual, and socially-oriented part of us that requires love and belonging).
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Soul Revival Christian Counseling is based in San Antonio, Texas. Michelle is currently taking adult clients in Texas and Colorado via tele-health with plans to open a local office in the near future.