Reflections on EMDR

IMG_1649As I finish the last requirements of my Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) training, I feel more compelled than ever share the gift of this therapy with the world. Having sat on both sides of the room, experiencing EMDR as both a therapist and as a client, I continue to be amazed at the changes I see, both in myself and in those I work with.

I notice myself making new connections about my habitual patterns. The roots of everyday suffering have become cleaner and clearer; I find myself more honest with them. I am more honest and less resistant, more flexible and less stressed, more curious and less avoidant. Most of all, I am finding myself more resilient than ever before. This was highly apparent to me during the chaos of the recent 100-year flood, an event that had a great impact on my life. What could have easily been psychologically traumatic was instead within my realm of tolerance. Beyond that, I was able to make meaning of my experiences and grow, even while the waters were at their height.

I am not a new person; I am simply more intimately in contact with my core self—in contact with my strength and power and flexibility and wisdom. I can weather the storm, more grounded than ever before.

I went into my EMDR training very skeptical. On the outside, the therapy appeared to be too rigid and formulaic for my style. Because of its predictable structure, I assumed that it lacked room for spontaneity and creativity. I thought because of this structure, my clients would feel as though therapy was being “done to them” and they would not have freedom to explore their own therapeutic processes in ways that were most helpful and resonating to them as individuals. Truth be told, EMDR is structured. There is a very clear formula and protocol. But what I didn’t realize before beginning my training was that this structure was the skeletal frame that could support a very creative, investigative, and nondirective process. My experience of EMDR has been a polar opposite of my past stigmas.

So what is EMDR, how does it work, and what is it like?

EMDR is a type of therapy that can be extremely helpful for both traumatic and difficult life experiences. Unpleasant symptoms that cause distress occur when such experiences are stored in the brain in an unprocessed way.  In other words, they get “stuck.” EMDR helps to unstick and process these experiences, reintegrating them in the brain so that they are no longer disturbing.

In EMDR, we use bilateral stimulation with eye movements, tactile sensations, or audio sensations while remembering a memory or symptom. This allows for processing and integrating of stored and/or unconscious material, thereby decreasing unpleasant symptoms. Though we are not sure quite how EMDR works, it has been shown by research to be a highly effective method of therapy. One theory is that by using bilateral stimulation, we create a state in the brain similar to REM sleep, which allows for our system to process material that is otherwise stuck.

During an EMDR session, a person experiences a combination of images, thoughts, somatic sensations, and emotions as though they were on a train, watching them go by out the window. It feels a little different for everyone, and part of the process is learning to trust that your experience is unfolding as it needs to (with guidance, of course!).

One thing I really love about EMDR is that it creates safety in a way that makes processing difficult experiences manageable. It gives clients control over how deeply they want to go into painful experiences, and highlights the importance of self-care and trusting one’s own limits. In this way, it promotes self-compassion and self-awareness. It’s empowering. It puts us in intimate contact with all parts of ourselves, from our shiniest defenses to our shadowed wisdom.

*Interested and want to know more? I am happy to do free in-person or phone consultations if you are considering EMDR with me. I am also happy to help connect you to other resources as well! Contact me here.*

[Sources: EMDR International Association: EMDRIA.org. , Maiberger Institute: maibergerinstitute.com].

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Rachael Uris, MA, LPC is the owner of Atacama Counseling, LLC, offering sex therapy as well as individual and couple's counseling for issues surrounding sexuality, love, and pregnancy. All services are located in downtown Boulder, Colorado, and are provided in English and Spanish.
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