What is EMDR Therapy and Will it Help My Trauma?

EMDR therapy has been picking up in popularity over the past few years. And there are tons of good reasons for this. It is a research-based intervention that has been shown to be incredibly effective for trauma. Also, where talk therapy may not be the best fit, EMDR steps right in with an excellent track record.

What is Trauma?

First, let’s define trauma. Trauma can be anything that is unsupportive in nature. To the Greeks, trauma is an “unhealed wound.” Trauma lives on a spectrum, where some experiences may feel less or more traumatic than others. It is also very individualized. The same experience may feel like trauma to one person, and just a blip to another person. (This doesn’t make you a good or bad person, for the record). Lastly, trauma can be one incident, like being assaulted, or it can be ongoing like discrimination and oppression. 

The Good News

Trauma can be healed. With the right guidance and support, trauma can be reprocessed so that it no longer gets in the way of living your best life. In other words, you can go from feeling like your trauma defines you, to feeling like your trauma happened to you. This is also called building resilience.

It’s common for talk therapy to not be enough to reprocess trauma. Further, for some people, talking about their trauma can even feel like it’s re-traumatizing. That’s where EMDR steps in.

So, what is EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. Don’t get caught up in the name, because EMDR is way more than just eye movements back and forth. 

EMDR therapy uses mindfulness techniques, as well as what we call “bilateral stimulation” to help reprocess trauma. Essentially, EMDR creates the right conditions for your mind and body to heal from trauma. It also teaches the body and nervous system how to relax when things feel wound up. 

One of the best parts of EMDR is that clients do not have to talk about their trauma. As long as the client knows the specific memory that we are targeting, they never have to share it, if they don’t want to. 

Why does EMDR work? 

When trauma happens, your brain “flips its lid.” That means, your neocortex and limbic system (rational and emotional brain) get disconnected. When this happens, the memory gets stored and stuck in the limbic or emotional brain. Without our neocortex, we have no good way of making sense of the memory, outside of fear and emotion. Bilateral stimulation (the eye movements, taps, pulses, sounds, or noises that alternate back and forth) reattaches the neocortex and the limbic system. In other words, it lights up your whole brain so that you can reprocess the trauma. 

It’s not always an easy process, and oftentimes challenging. We say in EMDR, that the “only way out, is through.” This means, we have to go back into the memory and reprocess it, in order to give it less power over our lives. EMDR is incredibly helpful to clear up past disturbances to positively impact your present and future self.

I don’t have trauma. Could EMDR still help me?

Short answer. Yes. Whether or not we identify with having trauma, it’s pretty likely that you have experienced an “adverse life experience.” Sometimes, this may not feel like a big deal, but it has left behind negative beliefs about yourself. For example, “I should have known better” or “I am not good enough” or “I am a failure.” These are common core negative beliefs that can live deep down in our bodies, but can show up in small ways daily. 

EMDR can help identify these core beliefs and where they come from. Through reprocessing, you’ll be able to establish new positive beliefs about yourself. 

I hope you’ve found this helpful to learn more about EMDR and if it could be right for you.

I’ve been trained in level 1 and 2 through The Institute for Creative Mindfulness. They have tons of resources on this website as well. Interested in learning more? Contact me for a free consultation. I’d be happy to chat and help direct you to the right approach.