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How and Why EMDR Kicks Ass

Updated: Oct 22, 2019

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR for short, is a special type of therapy and has become my favorite. I discovered EMDR as a client, not a therapist, and it helped me process in weeks what talk therapy might have taken months. I remember thinking, and still marvel at how EMDR targeted memories from my past that need to be processed, which I had no idea were still lingering.

Sometimes, the memories seemed harmless and at other times they seemed so long ago that I wondered how they could still be affecting me... but they were, and EMDR helped. 

How does EMDR work? The ultra- quick version:

  • List your top ten worst memories.

  • One by one, at a steady pace, shift memories from long-term memory to working memory​.

  • Process these memories and sever the emotional ties from past.

  • Shift the memories back to long-term memory as a processed memory.

  • When similar situations come up you can more easily think and feel without your emotions from the past spilling into the present.

How does EMDR work? The detailed version:

EMDR is a processing therapy that shifts memories from long-term memory to working memory so you can look at them from different angles. Memories that are stored in your long-term memory stay mostly intact, unable to be processed. An unprocessed memory is like a photograph, where you only see what the camera focused on. This can be a serious problem for your brain because, like a photograph, you only capture a small part of the whole event. Working memory helps expand the lens so you can see all parts of the picture, which lets you see new details about past memories and effectively process them. Ultimately, EMDR lets you think about your past in new, healthier ways.

An Example how I use EMDR:

I commonly use EMDR is to help clients shed the effects of parents who might have been perfectly good adults... but not good parents. Many adults in these situations find that they cannot trust their judgement, believe they need to be perfect, believe they cannot make mistakes, or have difficulty keeping relationships. Most people in these situations believe they are at fault and that their parents tried their best, but they couldn't "be good" or there was something wrong with them.

EMDR helps to re-look at these memories and address where the responsibility should be placed. For example, if a child is a “difficult” child, it is up to the parent(s) to seek help, adjust parenting styles, and shield their child from their own parental shortcomings until they can adapt to their child's specific situation. When this doesn't happen, children usually believe it’s their fault, but nothing could be further from the truth. As the child grows into adulthood, those thought patterns morph and become incredibly difficult to trace back to their origins. That is, unless you use EMDR, which assumes the present is a construct of past learned experiences.

In this situation, people address the topic of whether they deserve a parent that could meet their needs in tough moments, whether their parent’s punishments were deserved given the situation, and what might be different if their parents had taken time to do repair work when the inevitable parenting fail happened. Looking at these aspects helps people feel in control, that they can trust their judgement, and that good people sometimes do bad things or make mistakes as they become aware that what happened to them in childhood wasn’t their fault. Once processed, the emotional ties are severed, which helps when situations arise that make people feel like their child self-- but instead, are able to stay in their best adult self. ​

The above is just one example, but shows EMDR can work on several issues. EMDR is not issue specific--it is a therapy that works to adjust how the past affects the present. It has also proven effective with all sorts of other problems to include:​

  • anxiety

  • depression

  • trauma

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • addiction

  • relationship issues

  • feeling like a kid even though you're an adult

  • anger management

Remember, people aren’t born into the world with an issue; it typically develops over several years, or, even, an entire lifetime of experiences.

Like my post on EMDR? Check out Kendall's post on trauma! Kendall has a private practice in Loudon and I find her absolutely fabulous.