Foundations to Understanding EMDR Part 2


Talk therapy is great, and has been proven to help many people.  However, when we experience any type of trauma, or have a negative belief that is deeply engraved – those traumas and beliefs are stored in the right brain, and we talk in the left brain.  EMDR makes it possible for a person to become more intone with experiences they might not have language for.  EMDR is very structured in the way it is set up, and there is a protocol a therapist will follow in each session.  A lot is unpacked in one EMDR session, research shows that one session of EMDR is equal to 5 sessions of talk therapy.

How does EMDR work?

Simply put we desensitize a maladaptive memory or core belief, and then work on reprocessing (or instilling) new beliefs in its place.  We know that our brains can store positive or negative memories.  As we learned in the previous post, neurons can change and adapt with different experiences.  Because our brain has neuroplasticity, we are able to go in and reformate how we once stored a belief or memory to make it lose power.  We are able to retrieve a memory, keep it stored away, or try and reprocess negative memories so they no longer take up so much space in our minds, and daily lives.

How is EMDR done in a therapy session?

First, a client will be asked to talk about an event that is disturbing them, and the impact it has on their life.  Then the client will be asked to describe the negative belief associated with that event, (I’m not good enough).  Next I will ask my client to tell me about events that occurred in the past, what is occurring in the present, and what they predict will occur in the future that keeps this negative belief true. Negative beliefs are strengthened over time by our experiences.  Once we have our event outlined we will give emotions, and rate the intensity of the emotions in the moment.

Then, we move onto a positive belief.  I will ask the client for a positive statement we can instill, (I do the best I can).  We again list where this has been true in the past, is true in the present, and where we hope it to be true in the future. Then we rate the strength of that belief.  Once we have all of these points mapped out we begin the work of EMDR.  During a session a EMDR therapist will use bilateral stimulation (BLS) to help access memories that might be stuck in the right brain and integrate it into both hemispheres. BLS is done by darting your eyes back and forth following the therapist’s finger, or alternately tapping your right knee then left knee with your hands, or alternating which foot you tap.

Some therapists use tapers that alternate between vibrating in your left hand then right hand.  This is the brain’s natural healing process.  When you are in REM sleep your eyes dart back and forth and you are processing without being awake.  EMDR allows us to access those memories in a conscious state, and move toward health.  By bringing the negative belief up, noticing the feelings and adding the BLS you are able to access memories, and beliefs that you have suppressed, or have neglected to attribute meaning to. Once the negative belief intensity has gone down to a tolerable level, we then instill the positive belief.

A client that does EMDR is never taken out of consciousness, and is aware and able to stop the process at any time.  EMDR is very experiential- I would recommend this treatment to those who have PTSD, traumas, or have tried conventional talk therapy, and are not seeing the results they hope for.

Written by: Bethany Juran, LPC
With contribution from: Andrea Serrano