HOW EMDR THERAPY WORKS?
How is holding two vibrating buzzers or looking at your therapist’s fingers going to change your perspective about yourself and the world? If you’re skeptical – you’re not alone. How EMDR therapy works remains a mystery to many.
I was skeptical about EMDR and the way it works. Before I was trained in EMDR therapy I thought that it’s some kind of mumbo-jumbo therapy. I was wrong.
In order to understand what exactly happens during EMDR treatment, first, you have to understand how your brain works.
Most people seek therapy when they feel stuck. Some people are stuck in negative emotions, others are stuck in thoughts they can’t control. Many people feel they have no control over their behaviors. And despite many attempts to fix the problem, changes in feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are not happening.
This “stuckness” is something that can be changed. When you change the wiring in your brain, you can change your thoughts, your emotions, and your behaviors.
WHY ARE YOU STUCK?
Something that happened in your past had wired your brain in a certain way. More specifically, it got stuck in your brain. An event or events that were not processed in real-time have been affecting your day to day life. When disturbing or traumatic events happen, they are stored in the brain in isolation. The isolated networks in the brain don’t communicate with other neural networks.
For example, if you were neglected as a child and never felt like your parents cared about your wellbeing, you might experience some feelings of worthlessness. These feelings are not logical and cannot be accessed by the logical part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex). These feelings, along with the thoughts, the body sensations, and some other senses and memories, are stored in isolation in your limbic system (a part of your emotional brain).
When some networks in the brain don’t communicate with other networks (because they are stored in isolation) – you experience endless emotional pain. You’re depressed, you’re exhausted, you’re anxious and you always think about everything in negative terms.
You may blame yourself and think that something is wrong with you, but it’s not your fault. Your symptoms are a direct result of the way your brain has been wired. Instead of trying more of the same, you need to get some help and rewire your brain.
EMDR works by improving neural connections in the brain. Focusing on certain elements of a past event, while being exposed to bilateral stimulation (something that stimulates both sides of the brain), helps to enhance communication between neural networks.
REWIRING THE BRAIN WITH EMDR
The magic of EMDR happens when old, isolated neural networks start communicating with more adaptive networks in the brain. These old networks, mostly stored on the older (and non-verbal) parts of your brain have been leading your life for a very long time. These networks have caused you emotional pain, in the form of anxiety, depression, sadness, low self-esteem, and worthlessness. These storage and connectivity issues are what led you to seek therapy.
And these storage and connectivity issues are exactly what we’re fixing with EMDR therapy.
One of the most amazing results of EMDR therapy is a transformation of emotional charge that was literally stuck in the brain. Instead of getting emotionally triggered, you will have a more objective view of different aspects of your life.
So, to summarize how EMDR therapy works – EMDR therapy transforms psychological memory to objective memory. It helps you see your past as something that already happened. It helps you live more in the present because you can leave the past in the past.
If you want to read a personal experience about how EMDR works, I recommend reading Lucy’s EMDR experience.
Rotem Brayer is a certified EMDR therapist and an EMDR consultant in training practicing in Denver, Colorado. He divides his time between helping refugees to improve their mental health and maintaining a private practice.
Read about case studies of people like you, who transformed their lives thanks to EMDR therapy