Friends, I have some exciting news!
In the past several months I have felt like I am coming out of the dark! My daughter turned three and has blossomed in so many ways, including becoming more sure of herself and more independent from me. This has allowed me a bit more free time and I have found myself reading more and more. I think after 5 years focused on family and growing my practice, I was thirsty for growth myself! In addition to reading, I began seeking out opportunities to train to increase my skills. After a lot of thought, I decided to pursue EMDR, and wow am I glad I did!
I spent this past weekend in an intensive EMDR training, the first of three, possibly more. I couldn’t be more excited about the possibilities of this kind of therapy for my clients and my practice. Let me explain
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, but don’t get caught up on the name just yet. The very basic description of EMDR is this:
The human body has a beautiful and natural way to heal itself, and it moves towards this tendency on it’s own. The mind is the same way, when there is an injury or trauma, the mind moves towards healing. However, if we get a cut, and there is dirt or bacteria in there, the cut may not heal, it may become infected. The healing is blocked. The same can occur in the mind, the natural healing process can be blocked.
When we experience trauma (big or small) it is stored in our brains not just in verbal or visual memory, but is sounds, smells, bodily sensations, and more. When the healing process is blocked our mind cannot fully heal from the trauma, we cannot fully process it and therefore, are vulnerable to be triggered by similar sites, sounds, bodily sensations etc… We are also more likely to symbolically recreate this trauma in our lives as our mind attempts to solve it and move past the block. Many, many people live with fear, anxiety, depression, substance use, and more at the hands of blocked trauma.
It is important to say here that trauma isn’t just big things like war, rape, natural disasters, etc… It can be smaller (although they may not feel small) things such as experiencing rejection from parents or peers, being shamed by a teacher, going through a divorce or major life transition, and much more. Many of my clients are resistant to the word “trauma”, I’m ok with that as long as they don’t minimize the impact of the incident on themselves and their life. Whatever you choose to call it, your experience is important, honor it.
Ok, back to EMDR. First on a whim, then through multiple published studies, Francine Shapiro realized that traumatic or emotionally upsetting memories could be neutralized (eliminated of their emotional charge) through bilateral stimulation. Originally, Shapiro used two fingers, moved back and forth across the field of vision as bilateral stimulation. Currently, there are a variety of other means including hands tapping the client’s outer thigh, and machines that provide sensation in handheld “tappers”.
Many studies have shown that bilateral stimulation, combined with therapist prompts and guidance can rid even the most activating traumas of their emotional charge. The incident remains in memory, but no longer stirs up negative feelings and sensations. This effect has been replicated in numerous published studies. Although the exact mechanism is not entirely clear, it appears that the bilateral stimulation unblocks the channels and allows the memory to process to completion. The amazing part is that this process is much faster than regular talk therapy; Shapiro sites an average of 4.5 hours in single trauma incidents (Shapiro, F., Eye Movement Desensitization and Processing (EMDR) Therapy, Third Edition).
I know it sounds too good to be true, but in my training this weekend, I watched it happen, I even had it happen to me! As therapists in training, it is essential to practice our skills, and equally as important to know what it feels like to sit in the client seat. So, during trainings we are the therapist and then we are the client. I addressed two issues from my past that still bring up negative emotions when I think of them. I sat in my client role as my fellow classmates practiced their new skills on me, and was AMAZED as I watched memories and sensations flicker in front of my eyes and move on past. Upon completion, these incidents no longer held an emotional charge for me. Being a neuro nerd, this is absolutely fascinating! Being a therapist, I am filled with hope for my clients to reach a place of peace and calm sooner than previously thought!
If you’d like to learn more about EMDR, check out EMDRIA’s website
For information on the specific Attachment Focused EMDR model that I am training in please visit
*It is important to note that no results can be guaranteed in therapy, even with mountains of research behind it! And that I am considered “in training” until the completion of my third training weekend in the fall.