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EMDR Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a unique and empirically supported therapeutic approach that is a fast and effective way of treating a wide range of issues including PTSD and other trauma-related symptoms, panic, depression, sleep disturbance, chronic pain, dissociative disorders, and more.

What's the theory behind EMDR?

The theory behind EMDR is that our brains have a natural self-healing system, but this system can get overwhelmed and blocked by distressing and traumatic experiences. When this happens, our memories of these events get dysfunctionally stored in the brain as "reliving experiences" rather than as regular memories. Trauma keeps our brains "frozen in trauma time", so when the memory is triggered (by a person, situation, smell, place, image, thought, etc), it feels like the stressful event is happening all over again, and symptoms arise in an attempt to cope. Even if we aren't consciously thinking about the past, the body and nervous system remember. Therefore, in order to treat symptoms, we must process the distressing memories. 

How is EMDR different than talk therapy? 

As opposed to traditional talk therapies, EMDR doesn't focus on changing behaviours, emotions, or thought patterns, nor does it require telling and re-telling of the details of distressing experiences.  EMDR is unique in that it uses Bilateral Stimulation (BLS) of the brain's hemispheres to unblock the brain's natural self-healing system, therefore helping the brain process disturbing memories and allowing normal healing to resume. BLS can be administered via eye movements, auditory tones, or tactile stimulation (such as tapping on the body or holding hand pulsators). "Bi-lateral" means it stimulates the two hemispheres of the brain, right to left, usually delivered for 45-60 seconds at a time (sometimes shorter or longer). BLS has been shown to down-regulate (i.e. quiet down) the threat/anxiety/panic centers in the brain and to increase the parasympathetic (rest & digest) part of the nervous system.  


Is EMDR safe and appropriate for everyone?
Bilateral eye movements may not be appropriate for clients with a history of mTBI/concussion, vestibular issues, or eyes problems; however, other forms of BLS, such as tactile or auditory are just as effective. The Standard Protocol, which is taught in the basic EMDR training for clinicians, and which involves the reprocessing of traumatic memories, is not recommended for people with dissociative disorders until their dissociative symptoms have been adequately addressed. It is essential that therapists assess for dissociation prior to using BLS, especially eye movements, which can trigger dissociative symptoms. We use a robust and reliable measure called the Multidimensional Inventory of Dissociation (MID) to screen all clients for dissociation. Some clients may also need support with processing certain psychological defences, such as
fears of feeling certain emotions or fears of recalling memories, before being ready for the standard protocol. Modified EMDR protocols are safe and effective for almost everyone, including those with dissociative disorders, but therapists need advanced training to use EMDR with these populations. 

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