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EMDR: What Is It? How Does It Work?

What is EMDR?

EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a revolutionary form of therapy that can help people overcome trauma and other mental health issues.

EMDR works by targeting the root cause of a person's emotional distress. Unlike traditional therapy, which often focuses on the symptoms of a person's issues, EMDR aims to uncover and resolve the underlying causes of those symptoms. This is accomplished through a series of guided eye movements, or other processing movements (like sound, or paddles that buzz) which help to reprocess negative experiences and memories in a way that allows them to be processed and integrated more effectively.

One key thing we talk about in EMDR, in terms of how it makes change, is a concept talked memory reconsolidation. I will go more in-depth into what memory reconsolidation is, in a future article but on a basic level this term comes down to how the brain stores memories. Often present distress we encounter, or want to avoid in the world, comes from prior experiences we have. We don't want to tell our spouse something, because of how our parents reacted when we told them things. Or we don't want to fly, because there is something in that experience that reminds us of the past.

Or, because of troubles we've had in our lives, we've come to have some deep feelings about our abilities. We might not believe we can have courage, or we might not believe that people can love us. And while talk therapist can help a bit with these things, it often can't reach these types of concerns, which is why EMDR comes into play.

How is EMDR Different than "normal" talk therapy?

The first time I received EMDR, it was deeply changing for me. It was during a time in my life, where I was questioning everything, and I couldn't get over this fear that if I stepped out and really did what I wanted to, everyone I cared about would leave me.

I had talked this fear to death in normal therapy, and had plenty of CBT based interventions, as well as deep insight on this fear. I knew where it came from, I had different strategies, but even with these, my body would react any time I considered stepping out in the ways I wanted to.

During my first EMDR session my therapist had me sit with this, as well as the memories that I had identified in my talk sessions. She worked, first to resource me on my present experience, and then in our next session had me process one of those memories. Something clicked in that session, the way I held those experiences, the energy around them, changed in my body. I could feel a shift as the experience became more distance from me, as the memory moved from this thing that I felt like I was IN to an experience that had happened in my life.

EMDR's ability to reach in like this, outside of other similar interventions like Somatic Experiencing, is something that makes it unique in the therapy field. There is even studies that confirm this, that somehow EMDR rewrites the brain in a way that seems unique to it.

Another key way that EMDR is different than normal talk therapy, is the length of time it will often take someone to process things. Within normal talk therapy, people will often be at it for years, in processing one or two key considerations within their development. While there is nothing wrong with this, some of those same considerations can be worked with, in five to eight sessions of EMDR.

So, if you are struggling with trauma, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, consider giving EMDR a try. With its innovative approach to therapy and proven track record of success, it may just be the breakthrough you need to finally find peace and healing.

If you want to learn more about EMDR, and how it's different than talk therapy, you can also check out this video:

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