FAQs about EMDR
Common FAQs about Healing Trauma with EMDR Therapy
Your FAQs about EMDR answered by
a Massachusetts Trauma Therapist
If you struggle with ongoing intrusive memories, negative or scary thoughts, nightmares, or panic attacks, past trauma may be at the root of it all. Read on for common FAQs about EMDR Therapy.
What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a type of therapy used to treat trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was developed in the late eighties by Dr. Francine Shapiro. The premise behind EMDR therapy is that our brains are naturally able to heal from negative experiences. It is believed that trauma or traumatic memories get “stuck” in a particular moment in time on the right side of the brain. This side of the brain is often seen as the emotional side. Conversely, the left side of the brain is the logical side, more language-based side. When traumatic events or memories get stuck, using logic or talking about the event doesn’t help you process your trauma. That’s why traditional talk therapy often doesn’t work to heal trauma, and in fact, it can often feel retraumatizing.
People with symptoms of trauma and PTSD often feel like a bundle of raw emotions and are frequently triggered by common everyday events. Consciously or unconsciously, you are reminded of a past traumatic experience, and may find yourself acting or thinking in ways that logically you know aren’t helpful. The problem is that you often can’t help yourself. Not only are you dealing with current overwhelming emotions, but you are also reacting based on your past experiences. In a way, the past becomes the present.
Trauma affects all of the senses. The sights, sounds, smells, even sensations on your skin, can create lasting memories of a traumatic event. Emotions that were present at that time can also be stirred up. EMDR helps your brain heal naturally by developing new neural pathways between the left and the right hemispheres of the brain and allowing you to process your trauma.
What’s the difference between EMDR therapy and traditional talk therapy?
EMDR is not based on talking about your trauma. In fact, it has been shown that simply repeatedly discussing the details of your trauma is actually harmful. It can be triggering and retraumatizing. With EMDR, you don’t necessarily have to talk out loud about the specific details. As a result, some people find this really helpful. EMDR works to diminish the negative thoughts and feelings associated with your trauma rather than focusing on the details.
What is an EMDR session like?
In an EMDR session, the EMDR therapist will have you simultaneously focus on three things – an image that represents the worst part of your memory, a negative thought you have about yourself related to the event, as well as distressing emotions or body sensations.
Back when EMDR was first developed, clients would follow a therapist’s hand movements with their eyes while recalling the traumatic memory. The therapist’s fingers would move back and forth in the client’s field of vision. This left-right-left-right motion is called Bilateral Stimulation (BLS). Today, many other forms of BLS exist, including alternating tones through headphones, tapping on your shoulders or knees, or holding small pulsers in each hand that deliver a mild vibration. EMDR can even be used with children. A child might march in place or bang a drum to activate the Bilateral Stimulation.
Some people report feeling tired after an EMDR session, while others feel a rush of adrenaline. It is wise to plan out your day after an EMDR session.
Isn’t EMDR some kind of unconventional therapy?
EMDR has been widely researched all around the world, and is the standard form of treatment at the VA for returning war veterans. There have been controlled studies dating back to 1989 that show over and over that EMDR is one of the leading treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and has been used to help first responders and victims of natural and man-made disasters, including 9/11 and school shootings.
More FAQs about EMDR therapy
Are there different types of Traumas?
Trauma is often categorized into “big T” and “little T” traumas. “Little T” traumas are the accumulation of or a series of traumatic or abusive events over a period of time. These often happen in childhood and could be from physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. They can also result from neglect, bullying, or repeated verbal abuse from a close family member or authority figure.
“Big T” trauma can be from a single, life-changing event or it can be a string of events that are life altering, like a car accident, rape, war, or the sudden death of a loved one. “Little T” trauma is more common than “big T” trauma, and sometimes people don’t even recognize the impact it has on their lives. “Little T” trauma often needs more EMDR therapy to resolve.
What are the benefits of
EMDR is an effective protocol to treat past traumatic memories that are poisoning your present. EMDR is able to remove the anxiety, fear and sadness that cause you to avoid or overreact to situations.
EMDR techniques allow you to identify early memories that are at the root of your problems and change the emotions, thoughts, and even physical sensations surrounding them. These same techniques can help you understand why you do what you do and how to manage your life and behaviors better.
EMDR is used to treat a variety of issues including:
Panic Attacks and Anxiety
Sexual and/or Physical abuse
Why is it called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing?
That is because when Dr. Francine Shapiro first developed this technique, clients would watch therapists move their fingers back and forth in front of their faces. The left and right hemispheres of the brain were stimulated by looking to the far left and the far right in a alternating pattern. Today those hemispheres are also stimulated by tapping on your knees or shoulders in that right-left-right-left pattern. Holding little pulsers or hearing tones from headphones in alternating fashion also works. Honestly, it’s a horrible name, and Dr. Shapiro even wrote in one of her books that she wishes she had named it something else!
Can EMDR be done through online therapy sessions?
Absolutely! Many therapists are trained to offer virtual EMDR therapy, and it started long before Covid. EMDR can be very effective when delivered online. Virtual EMDR therapy is best when using a laptop or tablet, and involves watching a shape (often a ball) move back and forth across the screen. Some platforms also allow you to wear headphones and hear tones that match the left-right movement of the balls. For more information about online EMDR see my blog.
My name is Lisabeth Wotherspoon and I use EMDR therapy to help women heal the trauma and PTSD caused by sexual or physical assault, combat experiences, accidents, or the sudden death of a loved. In session we work to alleviate your symptoms of flashbacks, nightmares, angry outbursts, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, and feelings of depression and isolation.
It is possible to heal from trauma
even if past therapy hasn’t worked for you
If you would like to learn more, please call me at 603-994-0114 for a free 15-minute consultation. Let’s discuss your particular situation and see if EMDR therapy would be helpful for you. I see people for EMDR therapy in my Rochester, NH office, and can see people virtually from Brookline and Scituate, MA, as well as throughout the states of NH, Maine, and Massachusetts. You can also read more about EMDR in some of my blog posts.