EMDR Therapy for trauma & abuse in Seattle, WA

Woman looking out window | Seattle WA CounselingSometimes talk therapy isn't enough.

Some people who come to see us are struggling to cope with trauma. Whether that trauma occurred in their childhood or as an adult, it’s a serious situation and requires a specialized type of treatment.

One way that we are trained to treat trauma and abuse is by using EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitizing and Reprocessing. This evidence-based therapy can help resolve painful life patterns by changing the way negative memories are stored in the brain and body.

Developed in the 1980s, EMDR has a history of treatment and extensive research and is currently used by over 70,000 practitioners worldwide. It typically works much faster and more deeply than traditional talk therapy. To date, EMDR therapy has helped literally millions of people of all ages relieve many types of psychological stress.

How Does EMDR Work?

Some people find the name intimidating since it suggests that eye movements are necessary. In fact, they are not often used anymore. Others worry about what exactly is meant by “desensitization.”

Dr. Francine Shapiro, who first discovered EMDR, has actually been quoted as saying that she wishes that the approach had instead been named “reprocessing therapy,” since this is what is essentially occurring when healing takes place.

Based on what we now know about the human brain’s ability to change, grow, and heal itself (which is often referred to as neuroplasticity), it seems that EMDR sets up the brain to rewire or reprocess itself with updated, healthy beliefs.

In EMDR therapy, you and your therapist will determine which past experiences linger in your brain and body and produce unprocessed emotions like fear and guilt. Other problem-causing elements your therapist may find include body memory, which can present as muscle tension, panic, or a racing heartbeat, and false negative beliefs, such as “I’m in danger” or “What happened to me was my fault.”

Once those “targets” have been identified, your therapist helps by guiding you into a relaxed, mindful state (not hypnosis) and then uses guided imagery, free association, and your mind’s own healing power to process the unprocessed memory.

Your mind and body will move toward healing, primarily on their own, with the therapist guiding the process as needed.

What about Eye Movements?

You’ve probably heard of R.E.M. sleep – the stage of sleep during which rapid eye movement occurs. Have you ever wondered why that happens?

As your eyes move quickly back and forth, your brain is performing an incredible number of psychological functions. The easiest way to think of it is that the eye movement is stimulating both the left and right hemispheres of your brain. EMDR therapists refer to this as bilateral stimulation, and it’s nature’s way of enhancing, speeding up, and deepening the processes of our brain while we sleep.

EMDR emulates the process of R.E.M. sleep while you are awake.

In the past, when EMDR was first being developed, therapists would wave their hands back and forth and ask clients to track these movements with their eyes to create the eye movement. After many years of research (and shoulder surgeries for those poor, pioneering therapists!), we know that the eye movement isn’t necessary. We can produce bilateral stimulation with sensations.

When you come to Clarity Counseling and receive EMDR therapy, you’ll be asked to hold a small vibrating pulser in each hand, and this will produce the stimulation needed for your brain to process the unprocessed memories.

Does This All Sound a Bit Weird?

If it does, we get it. EMDR can be hard to explain in a few paragraphs of text and is best understood by talking with a therapist about how it works and what EMDR therapy looks like. It isn't nearly as strange as it seems and can be thought of as a form of meditation or guided imagery.

EMDR is a valid and effective approach and can help people move past the traumas that have held them captive. Please give us a call at our Seattle-based counseling office so we can help you determine whether you could benefit from this evidence-based therapy.