Healing through EMDR

What is unprocessed trauma?

Everyone has trauma. You don't get to be a person on this Earth without experiencing some kind of trauma. The difference between someone who is completely "fine" after trauma and someone who still struggles is whether or not the traumatic event has been processed. 

If you have hard times in your life, but you're able to talk about it without getting too emotional, that's processed trauma. If we have memories or thoughts that still make our stomach turn, our head hurt, or make us feel like we walk to curl up in a ball in the corner, then we know it is unprocessed trauma.

Throughout therapy and EMDR, we can't change the trauma or make it okay. However, we can take these emotional, tough, unprocessed memories, and process them, making it easier to go about your life without the emotional reminders of what happened. 

EMDR Basics

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a mental health treatment that combines eye movements (or other forms of bilateral stimulation, like music or alternating tapping your hands on your legs) with the reprocessing of memories. EMDR was originally shown to help those with PTSD, but has since become a leading treatment in almost anyone with a negative belief about themselves. The goal of EMDR is to facilitate healing from trauma and/or other challenging life experiences. 

During trauma or big events, our brain processes and stores memories. Sometimes, it stores them in a way that’s not very helpful to us, and can lead to thoughts like “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m unlovable.” This unhelpful storage can impact our present and future lives, and these ideas influence our emotions and thoughts moving forward.

EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) processing helps you break through these unhelpful beliefs about ourselves, and moves us toward an adaptive, emotionally healthy life.

EMDR utilizes bilateral stimulation. This is simply the process of bouncing between the left and right size of our brain. We can do this by tapping our legs back and forth, moving our eyes left or right, or hearing a sound jump from the left to right size of your headphones. 

With EMDR, we work on identifying the negative beliefs about yourself (”I’m unlovable”), and create and build upon our positive beliefs (“I’m lovable”). By strengthening our positive beliefs, we can reprocess our memories and find that our positive belief network is stronger than ever before. 

How does EMDR work?

When we sleep, most of the time (hopefully) we enter REM sleep. During REM sleep, our eyes dart back and forth underneath our eyelids. This is the phase of our sleep where our brain stores our memories. When traumatic events, or even mildly inconvenient, embarrassing, or awkward events happen, they often get stored in an unhelpful way.

Over time, we can start to develop negative beliefs about ourselves. These thoughts and beliefs might sound like "I'm helpless," "I'm unlovable," or "I'm not good enough." These negative beliefs create folders in our brain, and store all of our memories that confirm that belief. For example, if we failed a test in middle school, our brain might store that memory in the "I'm not good enough" folder. With EMDR, we create new, positive folders, such as "I'm lovable regardless," or "I'm good enough despite my mistakes." 

Throughout the processing phases of EMDR, we pull these memories out of their original, unhelpful folders and place it back into our working memory. Then, as we continue processing the related emotions, sensations, and thoughts, we can begin storing them in the positive folders. We might start therapy thinking that failing a test in middle school means that "I'm not good enough," and by the end, be able to think about it like "I'm able to ask for help and get my needs met," or "I'm worthwhile regardless."

What does EMDR look like?

EMDR involves several parts. First, you and your therapist will complete a standard intake. During this stage, we will work to identify the memories, and beliefs we want to focus on. This list is kind of like our road map. Throughout this stage, you will also be taught grounding and mindfulness skills. If we are focusing on distressing topics, we want to make sure you have the skills to bring yourself back to the present moment and continue on with the rest of your day. 

Throughout the processing phase, we will identify the different emotions, feelings, sensations, images, and thoughts that come up when we talk about specific memories. We will combine this with bilateral stimulation, which is really just a fancy word for activating the left and right side of your brain. We do this by using eye movements (moving your eyes back and forth across a screen, or following your therapist's hands and they move back and forth), auditory stimulation (listening to a song or sound that bounces between the left and right side of your headphones), or physical tapping (alternating tapping your hands on your left and right leg or shoulder). 

When we use the bilateral stimulation, we let our brains wander, and bring up anything that it wants to process. Over time, your brain will process these memories, making it a processed traumatic event. Then, as we continue to work through the list we made in the first stage, your brain might start to feel a little lighter, your confidence might increase, and the emotional distress can fade away. 

Although many people say EMDR feels like "magic," it's not. There's no witchcraft or hypnosis. You are in complete control and you're fully conscious. If you want to stop at any time, all you have to do is stop. Although EMDR might look unusual to what you're used to, at the end of the day, we're just two people, in a room, processing your trauma.

Stillwater Therapy is excited to offer an EMDR Intensive Retreat! This is for people who want more than just a weekly EMDR session. The EMDR Intensive Retreat is 2 hours/day, 5 days in a row.