Some of the questions I’m most commonly asked about my counseling practice are related to EMDR: “What does it stand for?” “What is it used for?” “Is it like hypnosis?” “Is it evidence-based?” “Can it help me?”
The name is a mouthful ⎯ and may even sound intimidating. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and it’s a truly amazing intervention that I utilize daily ⎯ and that has dramatically improved my life as both a clinician and as a client. Many of my clients describe its effects as “magic,” and I agree that its effectiveness feels “magical” to me many times each week.
Developed in 1995 by Francine Shapiro, PhD, EMDR is an evidence-based therapeutic intervention that has significantly and positively impacted the lives of thousands of people all over the world.
It’s not at all like hypnosis, particularly in that clients are awake, totally aware, and completely in control. One ‘theory’ about EMDR is that the bilateral stimulation ⎯ or ‘eye movements’ ⎯ is much like REM sleep, when our eyes rapidly dart back and forth during deep sleep cycles. This may explain why we can go to bed with a problem on our minds, sleep well, and awake with different awareness or even new thoughts or feelings related to the issue. With EMDR, the client is able to focus on a specific issue or trauma and achieve a similar effect during therapy sessions.
EMDR is used to help individuals who have experienced “Big T” traumas like war, sexual assault, domestic violence, and other events that everyone would likely deem traumatic. EMDR is also used to help clients who have experienced “little t” traumas like being told they are stupid or unworthy as a child, experiencing discrimination or bullying, or living through events that many would consider traumatic, while others may not.
One of my favorite ⎯ and most fundamental ⎯ aspects of using EMDR is that there is NO judgment of what is or is not traumatic. If something is traumatic to a person, then it IS traumatic and can benefit from EMDR, especially because of the always-present link between trauma and a negative self-belief.
Often, our brains even know on an intellectual level that these negative beliefs about ourselves aren’t true ⎯ and, yet, we continue to operate out of these irrational beliefs. EMDR essentially helps to ‘re-wire’ our brains and to replace these irrational, negative beliefs with more rational, positive beliefs ⎯ beliefs that are nearly always true and that invariably serve us better.
Not surprisingly, some of my clients who are therapists themselves have benefitted so much from our EMDR work that they have invested the time, energy, and money to become trained, too. Having experienced its life-altering, positive effects, they want to help their own clients benefit from its “magic.”
I’m grateful for EMDR ⎯ and look forward to helping many, many more clients work toward wholeness, health, peace, and overall well-being.