What is EMDR ? EMDR stands for eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing its a therapy designed for processing traumatic memories, its a well established therapy for trauma work in psychotherapy particularly for PTSD ( post traumatic stress disorder)
So how does it work? well lets first discuss what creates a traumatic memory, a traumatic memory is something that was so emotionally intense that you cannot process it because it was to overwhelming at the time. Memories are normally processed during REM sleep or the dreaming state. For example say someone annoyed you at work but you kept quiet and didnt say anything because you were at work. During REM sleep you will dream about someone and express what you wanted to say or shout that day, it will either the person in question or someone who represents the person metaphorically hence why dreams are so real when you are in them. Those emotions need to be discharged or they can build up and cause a lot of stress , imagine the emotional brain (limbic system) as a stress bucket, we empty that stress bucket at night. If that stress bucket isn't emptied then we are going to become very stressed and anxious as the emotional pressure builds up leading to stress and anxiety etc
With a traumatic memory it can't be processed during REM sleep so it is still creating stress in the system, the bigger the stressful event the worse the stress response in the body, whats known as a big T trauma a classic example is PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). But it can also be a build up of small T trauma's that are not released but each one adding to the stress in the system, if you get enough small T traumas it can eventually build up enough to create complex PTSD. Basically with traumatic memories the past is present, the body is still reacting as if the event is still happening now.
With trauma we can also form beliefs about ourselves during that trauma, particularly childhood trauma, beliefs like Im not good enough, Im not lovable, Im vulnerable etc. As long as these unprocessed memories and all the emotions are still in the system its very difficult to change those beliefs, but using EMDR to release those memories will at the same time release the emotions and beliefs formed by those memories leading to a far better self image and self esteem.
So how does it work, well during REM sleep the brain is bouncing between the left and right hemipsheres which both play quite different roles. The process of moving to and fro between hemispheres helps mind process the memory and discharge the emotions.
So with EMDR we are manually re creating REM by having the client follow a light or the therapists hands with their eyes from left to right, stimulating right and left hemispheres other wise known as bilateral stimulation. This can also be done by bilateral stimulation of the ears with sound or bilateral stimulation of the body say tapping on alternate knees. So whilst doing the bilateral stimulation we work through the traumatic memory so you can process that memory the emotions and unresolved stress response. So the past is in the past again and the memory no longer stimualtes an emotional response or a stress response.