EMDR treatment is a way of addressing both the mind and the brain, at the same time. It is based on a "digestive" model of trauma. When we eat or drink something that is not good for us, our stomachs and intestines don't do very well at digesting. Our bodies develop symptoms--gas, stomach pain, cramps, etc. Sometimes we have to take antacids or other medications to help us "get rid of" the indigestible substance. Until we finish processing the bad food, we can't really feel comfortable in our bodies. We might try to go about our business, go to school or work, have dates, see friends and family, but we really don't feel well. Finally, the bad food passes through our systems, and we are relieved and feel well again.

Trauma theory tells us that when a trauma happens to us, our brain becomes overwhelmed and cannot process or "digest" the experience. The memory of the bad event "gets stuck" in our psyche, and cannot process out - it cannot be eliminated from our system. So, we have repetitive thoughts about the event, we keep remembering parts of it, perhaps we have bad dreams about it, or, even flashbacks. Maybe we get so upset that we turn to drugs or alcohol or food to blunt how upset we feel. Maybe we are partly successful in putting the bad event out of our minds, but then, one day we walk past the street where it happened, or see a photo of something that reminds us of it, or our friend says something that brings it up all over again. We get ambushed by the memory of that terrible thing. Again and again.

EMDR treatment is a way of transforming the memory of the trauma into a more "digestible" form, so we can break it down, and process it through our psyches. At the end of a successful EMDR treatment, the patient has the felt experience that the trauma is over.

An EMDR treatment is conducted in at least 3 parts (and sometimes more):
1) A structured interview in which the issue to be targeted is selected. Then specific questions are asked, in order to narrow the field of inquiry, and focus the patient's mind in particular ways.

2) The traumatic event is processed, using one of the forms of neurological bilateral stimulation (eye movements, auditory, or tactile).

3)
Following the processing, there is a debriefing provided before the patient leaves the session.

  An Example
 

When I was doing my EMDR training, in 1998, I had a first chance to see this transformation in action. During the part of the training where the attending therapists try the technique on each other in pairs, I was partnered with a gentleman in his mid-60's who disclosed that he'd been left back in 2nd grade. He had been dyslexic back in the days before anyone understood this neurological condition, and he was plagued with poor self-esteem based on his academic problems. His family handled his being left back very poorly, and this poor little boy had been shamed and punished. Here he was in 1998, an older man, an accomplished professional, and still, at times, feeling all the old terrible feelings, and thinking all the same bad things about himself. This decades old trauma had bothered him all these years. I played the therapist for him, and we went through the EMDR protocol. Finally, at the end of the processing, when I asked what he was thinking, he said, with surprise---"Well, it all happened a very long time ago. It's not true anymore. It's all over." And then, he laughed, long and hard at feeling so relieved and free.


This sense of being released from old traumas is the expected outcome from EMDR work.


For additional information about EMDR, see the following websites: www.EMDR.com
www.EMDRIA.org
www.EMDRPORTAL.com