the emdr therapy process
I have found EMDR Therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to be a powerful and efficient method to address the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. EMDR Therapy involves targeting memories that have become neurologically "stuck", using bilateral stimulation (usually in the form of eye movement or alternating tactile buzzers) to accelerate the brain's capacity to process and resolve the troubling material. These frozen memories can be either Big T traumas (such as violence, rape, or life-threatening injury) or Little T traumas (i.e. small but powerful adverse life events such as being called a name or feeling left out by peers). These unresolved memories make the past feel like it is still very much present and force current life experiences to be filtered through a negative, distorted lense.
The brain appears to have a natural healing process for dealing with difficult life events, much like the body has a natural healing process for cuts and broken bones. EMDR Therapy can be likened to cleaning out an infected wound or setting a bone, so that the body can be effective in restoring healthy functioning. While other types of therapy are effective in allowing insight into the root causes of difficult emotions and providing tools for challenging negative thought and behavior patterns, I have found that EMDR Therapy allows changes in emotional, cognitive, and behavioral response patterns to occur spontaneously.
This is not to say that the process of EMDR Therapy is easy. It is a multi-phase process, often involving significant assessment and preparation, as well as strategic targeting of pivotal past experiences, present triggers to distress, and related future challenges. Like the analogy of cleaning a wound or setting a bone, it can be an intense experience to activate the thoughts, feelings, and sensations of the memories that fuel a person's fear, anger, and sadness. However, the reward is often that the source of the pain is then neutralized, as the brain integrates the positive and reality-based perspectives of safety, efficacy, and self-worth.
the effectiveness of emdr therapy
EMDR Therapy was initially developed to treat trauma and over 24 randomized studies (and much related research) have provided empirical validation of its efficacy. EMDR Therapy has been assigned to Category A as "strongly recommended" for the treatment of trauma by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense (2004, 2010); has been determined to be an effective treatment for Acute Stress Disorder and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder by the American Psychiatric Association (2004); and has been included in SAMHSA's National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (2011) for the reductions of trauma-related stress, anxiety, and depression. Most recently in 2013, the WHO (World Health Organization) has formally approved the recommendation of EMDR Therapy for adults and children with PTSD.
I have become a Certified EMDR Therapist and Approved Consultant through the EMDR International Association, with a commitment to ongoing training in order to be able to effectively use EMDR Therapy to address the varied and complex needs of my clients. The following list of treatment issues is not exhaustive, but provides a sample of what issues I typically treat with EMDR Therapy:
- Rape, Sexual Assault, Sex Trafficking
- Domestic Violence
- Violent Crime
- Childhood Sexual Abuse, Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, & Neglect
- Social Rejection
- Traumatic Injury (e.g. Burns, Car Accidents, Medical Trauma)
- Anxiety, including PTSD, Panic, Social Phobia, OCD
- Disordered Eating and Body Image, including Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating
Please click here to listen to an episode of Savor Podcast in which I discuss in depth what it is like to engage in EMDR Therapy (and specifically how EMDR Therapy can be used in the treatment of Eating Disorders).
emdr therapy for compulsions & addictions
I also find remarkable efficacy in treating the addictive and compulsive behaviors that often become intertwined with the above issues, through the integration of the FSAP (Feeling State Addiction Protocol), a modified EMDR Therapy method developed by Dr. Robert Miller. While this method is in the initial stages of research validation and can still be considered experimental, my clinical experience has mirrored that of multiple case studies showing that it is powerfully effective in breaking the neurological bonding of a positive feeling state with harmful and costly behaviors.
The FSAP works from the theory that addictions and compulsions are often birthed in the moment when a person experiences an intensely desired positive feeling while engaging in a certain activity or substance use. The fireworks that are experienced in that moment are the result of the behavior or substance eliciting the sensation that a pre-existing need has been profoundly met. For instance, a child experiencing deprivation of love and safety finds the only comfort available in sneaking ice cream, or a teen confined by cold, controlling parents finds a sense of power and revenge in stealing a cigarette from his mother's purse.
The experience of the positive "feeling state" is so potent because of the person's specific history and emotional/relational vulnerability. When the positive feeling state is paired with the behavior, it is as if the two become neurologically welded together. Subsequently, a person will compulsively seek to recreate that feeling state by engaging in the behavior (e.g. overeating, smoking), often at great cost and despite white-knuckled effort to change.
The FSAP appears to break this neurological bonding, in a similar manner to the way in which standard EMDR Therapy breaks up the "stuck" traumatic memory. As the intensity of the bond between the feeling state and the behavior lessens, clients find that their urges and cravings diminish and even disappear. Often, this process brings the person's original vulnerability to the surface, as it can no longer be numbed or hidden with addictive/compulsive behavior. Standard EMDR can then be used to resolve the underlying painful experiences that created the felt "need" for the addiction/compulsion in the first place.
While every client's experience in
therapy is different and the response to treatment varies greatly, some
of my clients have volunteered to share how EMDR Therapy and the FSAP was integrated
effectively into their treatment on the Client Experiences page of this site. Please see the Resources page for links and further information on EMDR Therapy.