Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
When the Past Becomes the Present
Perhaps you have said or heard somebody else say, “Oh! That was a trigger for me.” What this refers to is a present cue from your environment – such as a person, place, situation, or object – that contributes to an almost automatic emotional or behavioral reaction from you, even beliefs and/or images.
Sometimes such responses are pleasant; for instance, a cookie-baking aroma may evoke comfortable feelings and memories from your childhood when your grandmother lovingly baked particular cookies for you, especially your favorite kind. On the other side, your response to a present trigger may be distressing: persistent negative emotions, beliefs, or behavior that bother you – even other people.
In the extreme, when exposed to a trigger, you may feel like a past distressing event is happening all over again (this is known as a flashback, a PTSD symptom). This limits your ability to fully enjoy your everyday life – it may get to the point when you start to avoid safe situations that trigger you.
Although a major trauma (an event in which your life is threatened) such as violence or robbery is needed to diagnose somebody with PTSD, science has shown that everyday life experiences, such as relationship problems or a job loss, can produce just as many, and sometimes even more, symptoms of PTSD.
We don’t have to undergo a major trauma such as a father’s death or a car accident to develop symptoms or distress that lasts for years. Although we have come to rely heavily on pills for feelings of well-being, often they only mask the symptoms, and “talking it out” sometimes just doesn’t “cut it.”
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
The way our memories of past experiences are stored in the brain is the basis for much suffering, and this can be changed. Distressing memories can be transformed into ones that are happily, appropriately stored in the brain which are the basis of joy and mental health. EMDR is a brain-based therapy that can help you do just that.
With EMDR, your brain processes these distressing memories naturally so that they no longer produce suffering when remembered – it also neutralizes the negative emotional charge in response to your present triggers – and this helps to change your behavior as well.
EMDR can help you process and resolve childhood trauma, ranging from such a common situation as growing up with a critical caregiver to as severe as having experienced child abuse and neglect repeatedly.
Check out the following YouTube video about it: EMDR Therapy
What Other Problems Can EMDR Treat?
In addition to treating PTSD, therapists have used EMDR to successfully treat:
- Anxiety and Panic Attacks
- Self-Esteem and Performance Anxiety
- Personality Disorders (for example, Borderline Personality Disorder)
- Sleep Problems
- Complicated Grief
- Pain Relief, Phantom Limb Pain
Take Chris, for instance.
Chris reported experiencing extreme stress and anxiety related to making inconsequential mistakes at his job – even at playing his favorite sport (present triggers). Aware that this reaction appeared to be out of proportion to these separate yet similar situations, Chris underwent EMDR.
As part of EMDR, Chris identified two childhood experiences with his main caretakers – and associated negative beliefs about the self – that Chris’s memory network linked to the present triggers. Chris’s brain processed these childhood experiences over the course of less than ten EMDR sessions. Afterward, Chris reported experiencing NO emotional distress when exposed to present triggers as well as thinking more realistically not only about making mistakes (“It’s OK to make mistakes”), but also about himself (for example, “I can be myself”).
What EMDR Is and Isn’t
EMDR produces positive treatment outcomes at an accelerated rate compared to other types of therapy (for example, talk therapy). It is not a hoax or fad; EMDR is not “too good to be true.” EMDR is designated as an effective treatment by several organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Simply put: EMDR works! Not only science says so, but, as an EMDR practitioner myself, I have witnessed people’s own amazing transformation and healing in a relatively short period of time. Some of them have reported that they had never been able to achieve such rapid healing via talk therapy, and improvement is maintained long term.
EMDR helps you transform thoughts, feelings, and reactions, and this can lower your distress and increase comfort, confidence, and peace.
If you are interested in undergoing EMDR therapy, I can explain more about how it works and can help address your specific issue.
If you don’t make peace with your past, it will keep showing up in your present.