Often when people hear the term EMDR as a mental health treatment method, they wonder three things: what do the letters stand for, will it hurt, and does it work? The answers to that three-part question are: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, no it does not hurt, and yes, it does work remarkably well for many people suffering trauma, and other painful experiences contributing to emotional pain. EMDR can begin to have an impact from the first few sessions of treatment, or can be integrated into existing therapy sessions.
What Happens in EMDR?
EMDR is a non-invasive treatment method developed to help a breadth of needs from attachment wounds to physical trauma. The mechanism of EMDR is fascinating, as it is neurologically based and works through six phases of cognitive, emotional, and physiological interventions. Therapists who are trained in EMDR take people through the process carefully and explain each element of treatment prior to starting.
EMDR essentially helps transfer deeply entrenched trauma and other ingrained experiences away from the automatic physiological responses of PTSD to minimize impact on daily life. When trauma reactions (such as increased heart rate, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and heightened cortisol levels) are reduced, our bodies have an opportunity to function properly, resulting in better quality of life and lower stress levels.
The process is completed by revisiting traumatic events in memory, while sitting with a trained EMDR provider who carefully guides you through a succession of neuro-rewiring activities. Bilateral eye movements, audio input and bilateral tapping integrates neurological systems to reprocess the events and store them in a less destructive way. The memories of the events remain, but the daily harm to the mind and body is minimized.
The treatment helps people process difficult life experiences and corresponding emotions and restructures the events to reduce the discomfort in daily life and develop new emotional responses. EMDR is a well-established quality of care built on the understanding that our bodies and minds store memory and experiences to self-protect against future perceived danger and pain. Our minds and bodies become warehouses for our emotional experiences.
The Relationship Between Mind and Body
In his book The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk delves into the many ways our bodies respond to stress hormones that become activated by traumatic events. Long term exposure to stress hormones wreaks havoc with immunity and even impacts the way our body systems work. The mind and body share information continuously and emotional information is just as vital as physiological information in terms of how we feel and function.
It is ironic how quickly we segregate our mental health away from the operations of the brain and body. That division began because of cultural and educational shifts centuries ago, which relegated psychological health as its own study. While this specialization was crucial for the development of psychological theory and the study of the mind, it also taught us to compartmentalize the mind from the body, which doesn’t reflect the way we truly function as a unified system.
Mind and body healing modalities are effective because they take into consideration the two-way street of our mental and physical selves. Yoga and meditation are great examples of how we can use mind and body collaboration for overall wellness. Treatments like EMDR offer relief from the effects of painful experiences and trauma in a non-invasive way. We can tap into our bodies’ innate desire to heal and be well. It is surprising how resilient we are, especially when we are given the tools to heal.
There are many effective treatments for people of all ages to experience healing. It is important to remember that emotional health can improve, just as physical injuries can heal. Parents who are worried about children with emotional health challenges can allow themselves to feel confident in their child’s resilience when mind-body healing modalities are being implemented. Emotional health can be achieved in a supportive treatment environment.
Talley Webb, MA, CRMC