“That’s that therapy where you follow the therapist’s fingers with your eyes, right?”
Well, yes, at some point, it may be.. But when I hear this I always point out that there’s a lot more to it! People interested in EMDR or hearing about it for the first time often focus on the eye movements, tapping, or other bilateral stimulation because it’s the part most obviously different from other forms of therapy. And the experience of reprocessing traumatic or bad memories using bilateral stimulation can be transformative for many people. But EMDR also presents a comprehensive way of understanding and treating trauma responses and mental health problems.
EMDR is based on a model called Adaptive Information Processing. In short, that means that our minds are capable of taking in and making sense of new experiences in a way that is helpful, and capable of healing from traumatic experiences. But, when this process fails for whatever reason, traumatic or negative experiences remain unprocessed and start to cause problems. Those unhealed experiences resonate throughout a person’s future learning and interactions with the world, causing symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and difficulty coping and connecting. In this way, there are similarities to some other therapy approaches that focus on unhelpful learning experiences or internal conflicts.
EMDR sees these problems as contained within memory networks. I always picture these looking like tree roots or the illustrations of neurons in documentaries—complex and branching and intertwined. The way that unhealed wounds or unresolved trauma affect our lives depends on these memory networks. Part of the EMDR therapy process involves identifying these associations and pathways. As a therapist being part of this process, there are always surprises, and it’s humbling to be reminded that a client’s struggles are not always connected in the ways I expect.
I love this aspect of EMDR because it honors the unique and intuitive ways that each person’s story and view of the world unfolds. For me, it’s a way of understanding problems that feels very human and open-ended, even literary at times. And, if memory networks are the story of a person, the end goal of reprocessing trauma (that following with your eyes part) gives clients a chance to correct the mistaken parts of the story, release the pain, and heal.
If traumatic or negative past experiences are affecting your life and you want to work on them in therapy or with EMDR, reach out today for a free consultation!