As a Mental Health Counselor who is trained in and utilizes EMDR I am often asked the question “What is EMDR?” Here is a brief breakdown of what EMDR is and how it can be helpful in addressing mental health issues. As I always tell my clients, EMDR is a bit weird to explain and there are a lot of scientific terms that are often confusing. Here is my attempt to simplify and explain EMDR in a way that everyone, even kids, can understand. First off let’s start off by defining EMDR. It stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. One of my favorite online EMDR resources, EMDR and Beyond, gives the following explanation of EMDR:EMDR therapy can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see upsetting experiences in a new and less disturbing way. Though it remains unknown how any form of therapy or psychotropic medication works on the brain, EMDR therapy seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information, similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. In REM sleep, the brain's natural healing process helps to make sense of and integrate experiences into adaptive learning (What is EMDR, 2017).
When explaining EMDR to my clients I try to break it down like this: the primary goal of EMDR is to take something that is distressing to the client and use EMDR techniques until the distressing thing isn’t so distressing anymore. The technique that really sets EMDR apart from other types of therapy is the use of bilateral stimulation during processing. Bilateral stimulation is a way of stimulating the left and right side of the brain back and forth by physically stimulating the body via visual, auditory, or tactile stimulation. This is typically done with the use of eye movements, headphones, tapping, or with tactile pulsars, or as I like to call them, buzzies. To learn more about bilateral stimulation go here: https://anxietyreleaseapp.com/what-is-bilateral-stimulation/
Ok, so now that you understand the mechanics of EMDR you may still be wondering how does it work? Research has found that implementing bilateral stimulation while processing something distressing helps our brain and our body to rewire and work out the kinks in our neuropathways that are causing distressing symptoms. By working out the kinks and rewiring those neuropathways we can experience a decrease in distressing symptoms and an increase in adaptive or positive symptoms.
EMDR has become known primarily for its effectiveness in helping treat clients with a history of trauma. However EMDR can also be helpful in addressing most other mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and more.
For more information on EMDR, check out these websites and recommended readings:
EMDR and Beyond: http://emdrandbeyond.com
EMDR International Association: http://emdria.org
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
What is Bilateral Stimulation. (2017). https://anxietyreleaseapp.com/what-is-bilateral-stimulation/
What is EMDR. (2017). http://emdrandbeyond.com/what-is-emdr/
About the Writer: Amy Reihman, LMHC
Amy has years of experience working in both inpatient and outpatient settings supporting individuals, families, and children. Her most recent experience focused on working with children and adolescents with behavioral and emotional problems stemming from family/ relational issues and/or emotional, physical, and/or sexual trauma. She has experience working with anxiety, anger and aggression, depression, relational issues, and trauma. Amy is trained in EMDR and has experience in sandtray therapy and Trauma Informed Care.