How EMDR Works

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EMDR works by having the client bring into mind the incident that they want to work on, recalling the negative thinking that is caused by the memory of the incident, while bringing to mind the new thoughts, reactions, and emotions they would like to feel while recalling that memory. Bilateral stimulation (BLS) is applied, which can be done either through eye movements or tactile stimulation. Bilateral stimulation can include:

  • Watching your counsellor’s finger moving back and forth
  • Watching alternating lights flashing on either side of your peripheral vision
  • Listening to sounds or tones on alternating sides of your head
  • Tapping or touching alternating shoulders, knees, thighs, etc.

This Bilateral Stimulation stimulates the two hemispheres of the brain (left side being analytical and looking ahead, and right side being holistic and scanning for threats). EMDR simultaneously stimulates the positive networks in the left side of the bring while also bringing in the negative networks (images, cognitions, sensations) in the right side of the brain.

EMDR treatment has been shown to be more effective than medications such as Prozac at relieving distress. While still a relatively new form of treatment, EMDR has been used to treat more than 7 million patients, by 110,000 therapists, around the world since 2016 (source: The EMDR International Association).

Replicating REM with EMDR

The simultaneous stimulation of both hemisphere is similar to what our brain experiences during REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep.

While research is still taking place regarding what processes happen during REM, it is speculated that we are processing information based on the brain activity that is tracked during REM sleep. When we sleep, our brain is processing information and experiences, allowing us to store important memories, let go of the ones that matter less, and put things into perspective. However, when the experience is too intense, we may find ourselves waking up from the experience. As a result, the dream remains unfinished, the processing is interrupted, and the memory is not able to be stored away properly.

Other stressors, factors and components of mental wellbeing can also interrupt this process. As a result, recalling these memories may feel like we are re-living the experience in our present state. This is a primary symptom of trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other forms of anxiety. EMDR allows for processing of the experience while we are awake and in the here-and now, allowing for completion of the dream/memory, and starting the healing process.

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