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EMDR in a Nutshell

by Kristyn Tanaka-Roche, LMFT

Have you ever had a memory that when you talk about it, think about it, bring it up in any way, your pulse starts to quicken, your voice gets louder? You starting recounting it as if it is happening in that moment. You have a visceral response to it. Nearly all of us have, whether it might be a big memory or a small one. We have memories that cause a physical response when we connect to them. This is because memory or trauma is trapped somewhere in your body, tricking your brain into thinking you are re-experiencing it right here, right now.

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, EMDR, helps to create new neural connections so that your brain can process the memory in a way that tells your physical body, “That’s just something that happened to me, but I’m here now, and I’m fine.” It doesn’t change your memory but it changes the power that memory has over you and dulls or eliminates the physical response to that memory.

EMDR utilizes bilateral stimulation, where both sides of the body and brain are stimulated, to help create new positive connections in the brain. This process can be achieved through moving the eyes back and forth: right, left, right, left. It can also be achieved by tapping your feet right, left, right, left or any other activity or movement that requires alternating sides of your body.

Bilateral stimulation is achieved through the back and forth of right body stimulating the left brain and left body stimulating the right brain. This process alone can be very powerful. For example, going for a walk or a run can often help us to calm down after getting upset. Exercise is helpful in relieving stress. Additionally, the right, left, right, left motion calms the brain.

The EMDR process combines this bilateral stimulation with lighting up three other parts: feelings, body sensation, and beliefs about oneself. When all of this is combined with the bilateral stimulation, the brain begins to create new positive and more helpful, adaptive neural connections associated with that particular visceral memory.

The EMDR process is much more involved, but this is EMDR “in a nutshell.” It can be incredibly helpful for all age groups in processing big traumas, little traumas, anxieties, fears, attachment issues, and more.

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