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FAQs About EMDR: Answered

February 26, 2019

Video Script: Robin Chamberlain, CEO and Lead Psychologist at Unstuck Psychological answers the most frequently asked questions about EMDR.

You Asked, So We Delivered!

New clients often wonder what EMDR is and how it can help them overcome their current problem. These are important questions. In this short video I’ll go over the basics. I’ll break this down into 3 parts.  First we’ll talk about what EMDR is. Secondly we’ll cover how it’s done, and then lastly, we’ll address why it works. So to begin let’s talk about what EMDR is. EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization reprocessing–hence, the acronym. The standard EMDR protocol was developed by Francine Shapiro over 30 years ago.

What Is EMDR Useful For?

Since that time it has evolved to include several different protocols developed by psychologists all over the world.  Variations on the standard protocol are used to treat addictions, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD and a host of other unhelpful patterns. We really are only scratching the surface of its effectiveness and adaptability to resolve distress.  Studies show that EMDR is effective and fast with the effects lasting longer than other types of therapies. With the advancement in neuroscience and brain imaging, we can see that EMDR shows changes in brain functioning. The research notes that EMDR facilitates changes in emotional functioning, higher order thinking, and the ability to synthesize information. Given these findings, how could we not use it?

How EMDR Is Done

Now you’re likely wondering how is EMDR done?  It’s simplicated–simple and complicated all at the same time. I’ll outline a basic session. First, your therapist and you will identify the pattern and the key memories responsible for maintaining the problem. Your therapist knows what to look for here, so you don’t have to worry about this too much.

Once the key memory is found, your therapist will assess a few different areas of the memory. To stimulate both sides of your brain, your therapist will ask you to follow an object–we call this bilateral stimulation. We use light bar. You’ll watch the lights go back and forth.

The second thing you’ll be instructed to do is notice what’s happening. You will experience changes in emotions, thoughts, new memories, body sensations or you may just notice the light. We will go through several sets of eye movements. Your therapist will ask you questions, have you focus on specific elements, change the direction of the light or the speed of the light according to how your brain is processing the memory.

We know that the memory is processed when you experience the memory differently. You’ll notices it loses its intensity. You still keep the memory–that doesn’t change, but you’ll find that this memory doesn’t feel as big anymore. It becomes an event that happened–not an event that affects you.

Consequently, now that the memory is processed it doesn’t hold the energy that the pattern needs to continue, which is why we see adaptive responses and behaviours come forward without much effort on your part. Yay, you!

It’s Kinda Like Popping A Pimple.

Let’s take a whitehead for example. A whitehead forms when a pore is blocked by some debris. It’s red, sore to touch, and not only can you see it, but so can everyone else–yes even with the best of makeup–we can all see the blemish. The pore tries to get rid of the debris by forming puss.

I like to think of the unhelpful behaviours, thought patterns, and emotional upheavals like puss–your brain’s trying to cope with a blockage, but it’s really just building up pressure and generating an unsightly and painful problem.

Now to help the pore along, we gently, ever so gently provide a bit of pressure in the right spot. The surface layer of skin opens and with a bit more pressure the white pus oozes out. We continue to apply the pressure until all of the puss is out. Next we cleanse the skin and leave it to heal. Pretty soon the redness around the pore subsides and within a few days to a week you can’t even tell where the pimple was. The skin simply knits itself back together–it follows a natural course of healing–we don’t have to tell the skin how to heal itself–it just does what it naturally does–what it was made to do.

EMDR Keeps Working Even After Your Session

Now we don’t have to use EMDR on all of the unhelpful memories in your life, just a few key memories associated with the pattern. Once the key memories are reprocessed, the brain generalizes the effects along the memory network. In effect, your brain is mobilized towards healing.

Why Does It Work?

This leads us to the third and final question of why does it work? Basically there are several different theories on how and why EMDR works. I personally like a combination of the theories, which are the orienting response, dual attention theory, and the adaptive information processing theory. Let me give you an idea of how these theories combine while walking you through the process of EMDR.

Adaptive Information Processing Theory

First your therapist will select the key memory to work on, and will ask you several questions specific to your current experience of the memory. According to the adaptive information processing theory, this is important because it is the current emotional, somatic (body), and core beliefs that are generated by the memory that continue to power the unhelpful patterns like anxiety depression, or whatever the stuckness is. The therapist is activating this memory for you and bringing it to your awareness on several different levels of understanding and experiencing. Bringing it to your awareness means that it’s in your working memory.

Next your therapist will give you some instructions and ask you to follow the light with your eyes. Now, the lights don’t do anything–there’s no magic, no hypnosis, nothing like that–you are completely conscious and in control. The lights are used to simply cue your eyes to move–that’s it. We call this bilateral stimulation–simply because when we move our eyes back and forth we are alternating the use of the left and right hemispheres in the brain.

Orienting Response Theory

According to the orienting response theory we are asking your brain to pay attention to something in the environment that is at first interesting, and then becomes quite predictable. We all have an orienting response. So at the beginning of the bilateral stimulation the brain is interested and mildly stimulated. When the brain notes nothing is happening other than the lights are going back and forth, it starts to relax and even starts to enjoy the predictability. When we help the brain to relax at the same time as bringing up a distressing key memory connected to the pattern it puts the brain an incompatible state.

Dual Attention Theory

Dual attention theory notes that the brain has an experience of both mild distress, because of the memory and relaxation, because of the bilateral stimulation. The brain doesn’t like that there are two competing states and works to integrate the experience. The brain notices that there is nothing unsafe in the environment and that the relaxed state must be accurate. Thus, it works to integrate the distressing memory into present day experience of being relaxed, in control, and safe.  Consequently, the uncomfortable memory that’s held in working memory is updated to the present day experience and loses  it’s vividness, emotional salience, corresponding bodily responses, and negative thought associations.

Kick Starting A Natural Process

I think of EMDR as a kickstart for your brain to look at the unhelpful elements of the pattern from a different perspective–a current perspective. This is different from talking or thinking about the pattern–it is a deep level change that moves you towards growth and healthy behaviours. For most clients, they already possess the skills they need to navigate the world successfully, it’s just that there’s a blockage in their ability to do so. That’s why there’s a feeling of being stuck. Once the blockage is removed, the adaptive responses come forward. The brain responds quickly, efficiently, and effectively when given the right conditions. EMDR leverages these conditions and allows the brain to function at its optimal levels.

I hope this answers your questions about EMDR. Please stay tuned for another video on the Unstuck Method, whereby I’ll be outlining the 2 phases of therapy and how these two phases make EMDR even more powerful. If you have some outstanding questions, I’d be happy to answer them. Or if you want to just get started, then feel free to connect with us to book your risk-free consultation. Remember, that’s a full 50 minutes session with a psychologist for free. See you soon!