Eye Movement Desesitization and Reprocessing
I am an EMDR therapist, fully trained to use this treatment method. While I don’t believe that EMDR is necessarily the best treatment modality for every client, EMDR has proven to be an amazingly effective form of therapy for persons suffering from PTSD, anxiety, depression and so much more. If you are interested in exploring this form of therapy, please ask me about it at the beginning of our initial session so that we can talk about whether it might be a good fit for you.
While we don’t know exactly how EMDR works (which is true for most therapeutic modalities), three decades of intensive research have made it abundantly clear that it can be an amazingly effective therapeutic technique for many people. We also know that the brain is “plastic,” meaning that it can adapt and change. The brain wants to heal itself—in the same way that the body is designed to heal when it is injured. We also know that in order to heal, the brain needs to be able to process trauma effectively.
I like think of it this way: when we get a scratch on our leg, it usually heals without treatment. Prior to the development of antibiotics, however, people routinely died from common infections, but not everyone died because our bodies are designed with immune systems that help us fight infections naturally and thereby heal.
The problem is that when we are experiencing trauma—whether major, minor and/or neglect–the thinking part of our brain tends to shut down in order to protect us in much the same way that other parts of our bodies react automatically to protect us under certain circumstances, e.g. the rushing of blood and nutrients to injured parts of our bodies, the Mammalian Diving Reflex, etc.
Unfortunately, we are frequently unable to adequately process emotional trauma and heal spontaneously in a healthy way because our frontal lobe (the thinking part of our brain) is needed in order to process trauma. Since our brains can’t process the trauma while it’s happening, we tend to store trauma in our brains in unhealthy ways. That’s where EMDR comes in because it helps us reprocess trauma, which is to say, reorganize traumatic memories and emotions, after the fact in a healthy way.
I’ll give an example of how this might play out with an actual case study from my practice (names and identifying information have obviously been changed to protect identity):
Anna’s sixteen year old daughter died by suicide and Anna found her body in the bathtub the next morning. Anna was so traumatized that her brain shut down and she felt numb and dead inside, which was a fairly common manifestation of the brain’s ability to protect itself from extreme emotional trauma.
Twenty-years later she would panic at the sight of a bathtub full of water and experience severe anxiety merely seeing any large body of water. She also experienced frequent nightmares about the event.
EMDR isn’t magic and as an EMDR therapist it wasn’t possible for me to simply make her stop loving and missing her daughter, nor would she have wanted that. But the use of EMDR techniques did allow Anna to reprocess the trauma in such a way that she can now see water–even a full bathtub–without experiencing anxiety. Her nightmares are gone and she can now think about her daughter and enjoy memories of her daughter without falling apart.
I hope this is helpful; you can also find more information at the EMDRIA website: https://www.emdria.org/default.aspx
New Direction Counseling
Ronda Gallawa-Foyt MA, LMHC
3615 Grant Street Vancouver, Washington 98660