What the heck is EMDR and how does it help with Trauma?

Two black women on a couch talking about EMDR. My picture Lisabeth Wotherspoon offers EMDR therapy near Dover, NH.


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing


I agree, it’s a weird name, and in some ways outdated since eye movement isn’t always incorporated into EMDR anymore.  The key thing to know about EMDR is that it uses Bilateral Stimulation.

Bilateral Stimulation can be from eye movements, sounds, or tactile stimulation, and the stimulation moves in a left, right, left-right pattern.  So, your eyes can move left, right, left, right or you can hear a sound from headphones that are first heard on one side then the other in a rhythmic pattern.  With tactile stimulation, you hold little buzzers in each hand, and they lightly vibrate, again in left, right, left, right pattern.

Let me talk a little bit about how trauma gets stored in the brain before I talk about why bilateral stimulation is important.  The brain science is short and simple to understand, I promise!

People use both sides of the brain to feel emotions and process thoughts.  There is an easy flow of information between the left and the right hemispheres.   When both sides communicate properly, we can process emotions, understand them and work through them.

When trauma occurs, it gets stored in the right side of the brain, the emotional part of the brain, but the communication is severed with the left side of the brain, which is the thinking or cognitive processing part of the brain.  That is why people who have lived through trauma

often feel like a bundle of raw emotions that are easily triggered and it can feel like they have a life of their own.

The exciting part of bilateral stimulation is that it actually builds new neural pathways between the two sides of the brain, allowing you to actually process the emotions and work through them.  Troubling memories become just memories without the emotional charge.  We can tell EMDR is working when traumatic memories no longer carry the raw painful emotions they once did.  You don’t lose your memories, but they simply don’t hurt any longer.  So many clients are stunned by this revelation.  One client said EMDR gave him his life back because he was no longer haunted by horrific, painful memories.  They were “just memories” now.


In my next blog, I will talk about a typical EMDR session.  Sign up below to get a notification of the next blog posting.  And if you are ready to start therapy, call 603-994-0114 for a free 15-min consultation to see if we are a good fit.

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