EMDR Therapy in San Antonio for Anxiety, Panic & Trauma
To best understand EMDR therapy it’s important to first know that sleep is a natural coping mechanism our brains use daily to heal. In fact research suggests that our brains are more active during the fourth stage of the sleep cycle, REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep) than when we are awake. The REM sleep stage is foremost noted for how our eyes, though closed, rapidly move side to side helping the brain in processing memories, unconsciously, by tracking each of the brain’s mental images. The REM sleep stage is when you’re dreaming and your brain is working through experiences and making connections. EMDR Therapy opens a window to the brain to allow you to resolve unprocessed memories, soothe past hurts, change or improve old perceptions and make the future bright again.
What is EMDR Therapy?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a structured therapy born out of mimicking REM sleep, including the rapid eye movements, to identify and treat unprocessed traumatic memories or other complex life experiences. While EMDR therapy mimics REM sleep, during an EMDR therapy session the patient is awake, conscious, and entirely in control. EMDR therapy enables the patient to briefly revisit and retrieve a traumatic memory in effort to “reprogram” and fully process the memory. This is achieved with the guidance of the therapist and the patient applying newly learned cognitive skills and tools – all to enable the brain to resume its natural healing process.
Regardless of the origin of the trauma, our brains have a way of naturally recovering from traumatic and stressful events and memories. While traumatic events can often be experienced and resolved spontaneously, it’s not uncommon to have traumatic events be only partially processed or entirely unprocessed. EMDR therapy is helpful to our brains in fully processing partially or entirely ‘stuck’ memories, allowing the normal natural healing journey to resume.
During an EMDR therapy session the patient is asked to reflect or talk about memories, painful emotions, and or triggers while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation. This bilateral stimulation is generally in the form of lateral eye movement, visually tracking the therapist’s finger as it moves across the patient’s field of vision, back and forth. The eye movement protocol of EMDR therapy mimics the rapid eye movement (REM) in the final stage of a typical sleep cycle. Uncovering and processing past traumatic experiences can involve moments of discomfort, since you are revisiting painful experiences of your life. However, EMDR therapy operates within a controlled and safe environment ensuring the process never becomes overwhelming.
Health Conditions EMDR Therapy Treats
EMDR therapy can be effective in treating:
- Panic Attacks
- Domestic violence
- Both behavioral addictions
- Military combat trauma
- Attachment trauma
- Eating disorders
- Personality Disorders
EMDR Therapy can also be effective for healing the long-lasting and painful trauma of subtle “relational wounds” that many of us experienced growing up:
- Harsh parental criticism & family problems
- Being raised by parent who battled depression
- Feeling rejection, excluded or ‘different’
- Being shamed by a teacher or parent
- Feeling unlovable or overlooked
- Abandonment by a parent
- Adults experience relational traumatic wounds as well from romantic partners, family and employers.
How Does EMDR Therapy Work?
When a traumatic event strikes normal information processing can become derailed, strong emotions disrupt our ability to fully process the experience, and the traumatic moment can within our brain become “frozen in time.” The memory of the trauma and all its components (physical sensations, impulses, images, emotions, thoughts and beliefs) can get ‘locked’ in the brain, unable to process, evolve or resolve. Reflecting on the traumatic event can conjure feelings of reliving the moment all over again because all the sensory aspects and feelings are still there, frozen in time, and can be surfaced in the present at any moment. Unprocessed memories can be reactivated by ‘triggers’ in seemingly benign situations and unexpectedly – leading to painful psychological reactions affecting our wellness and daily functioning.
Research indicates that EMDR therapy is effective in getting the brain to unfreeze or unlock a traumatic memory, giving it an opportunity to be identified and then fully processed. Over time and with continued EMDR Therapy sessions, the traumatic memory and associated feelings become “digested” and fully worked through (processed) to the point where you’re able to reflect on the event without surfacing or sensing the pain that once dominated. The memory has not been erased and is still there, however it’s no longer triggering as it is now less upsetting.
The precise mechanism for the effectiveness of EMDR is not clear. Research suggests the eye movements involved in EMDR therapy assimilate what occurs naturally while we’re sleeping at the REM, rapid eye movement stage. It’s thought that using rapid eye movements eases anxiety connected with the trauma thus allowing the original event to be re-visited and examined from a detached perspective, similar to watching a movie of the traumatic event. Generally about 90 minutes after we fall asleep we enter the REM, rapid eye movement, stage of our sleep. This is when our brain activity increases, our eyes quickly dart around, and our blood pressure, pulse, and breathing speed up. REM sleep is when we do most of our dreaming and plays an important role for memory and emotional processing.
EMDR Therapy enables you to retrieve ‘frozen in time’ trauma and apply new tools and positive ways of reframing the original traumatic event or reprocessing the trauma to desensitize and release the body’s stored negative emotions connected to the trauma. In this way EMDR therapy can be viewed as a physiologically-based therapy allowing you to revisit and reexamine events in a fresh and less distressing way. EMDR therapy is understood to reactivate those parts of our brain that previously “shut down” our natural coping mechanism processes thereby damming up a reservoir of trauma. Thus with EMDR therapy, a cognitive reorganization takes place within the brain, breaking the dam and allowing the painful emotions to flow and be processed, while giving way to more resolved, empowered feelings.
Why EMDR Therapy Effectively Treats Hidden & Trapped Memories
Significant events and the creation of memories in life can in part or in whole linger in your memory and might include painful emotions. Hidden memories are the ones that linger that you unconsciously forget and generally involve trauma or distress. Research indicates hidden memories are created from something called state-dependent learning. Be mindful the brain can ‘learn’ while you’re experiencing a trauma and create a detailed memory of all its sensing while in a traumatized state.
However the brain can also make that memory inaccessible and hidden while you are in your normal state of consciousness.
Thus the brain, in the short term, is capable of being protective and ‘trapping’ or ‘hiding’ fear-related, stressful or traumatic memories. Unfortunately over time and in the long term, hidden and trapped memories can produce serious emotional wellness concerns such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, dissociative disorders, and more.
Also, commonly people are unable to remember the full scope or depth of their experiences, especially if they’re harboring hidden trauma and trapped memories created through state-dependent learning. This is where EMDR Therapy can be a particularly effective mechanism for change as it offers a unique procedure, bilateral stimulation (rapid eye movement), to place the brain in the REM stage where you can safely revisit the original trauma, identify what’s hidden when conscious, reprogram and fully process the memory.
For example, a rape survivor might intellectually know that they are not to blame, but they still might feel emotions of shame and guilt surrounding the attack. Their memory of the rape can become ‘frozen in time’, forever affected by negative emotions, that have not been fully explored or processed. It is thought that as the years go by, when the memory of the rape is triggered, the person can feel as if they are right back in that original traumatic moment, reliving it all over again. Through EMDR therapy the person can briefly revisit that original moment, identify a traumatic memory ‘frozen in time’, unfreeze it, and apply newly learned skills and tools to fully process and resolve the ordeal.
What EMDR Therapy Looks Like
First, you need not fully remember something with clarity to process it. Also with respect to your memories, there’s no need for accuracy because even a general sense of what happened is sufficient to work from. Remember, we’re looking at your present-day experience of the past and all the original remnants that remain: thoughts, feelings, etc. We will not be erasing your memory, we’re lowering the pain and disturbances associated with it.
So to reiterate, EMDR Therapy does not require a vivid memory or lengthy conversation about your experience and is an 8 step or phase protocol, typically unfolded over 6 to 12 sessions. Initially, EMDR therapy is very similar to basic talk therapy. In Phase 1, our first session, we’ll have a conversation about your current challenges, the symptoms you’re recently experiencing and I’ll learn about any background you would like to share. I’ll have some questions and in a collaborative process we’ll probe potential memories to further explore. Phase 1 primarily involves learning history and considering what memory or other issue we will work on.
For example, if you were to share with me that it’s difficult for you to express yourself and ask for what you need, it’s possible you have a memory of a teacher or parent shaming or admonishing you for asking for help. Through conversation of your challenges, symptoms and history, collaboratively, we’ll consider memories to initially target. However we won’t get ahead of ourselves as phase 3 involves thoroughly unpacking the chosen and targeted memory, along with introducing a positive belief technique such as reiterating “you are safe now” to counter any negative emotions stirred by the trauma associated with the targeted memory.
In phase 2 of EMDR therapy, we’ll focus on education and resourcing. I’ll share with you insights on how the brain and nervous system function in the context of trauma and memories. You’ll also develop tools and techniques as you learn about relaxation and containment exercises to help with self-control and self-soothing. This might include developing coping strategies, like meditation or breathing exercises to help should you feel distressed during or between sessions.
Phases 3 – 7 encompass processing and involves a fairly complex protocol. From this point EMDR therapy distinguishes itself from talk therapy and I’ll guide you in bilateral stimulation for 30 – 60 seconds, where you move your eyes back and forth in effort to mimic the REM sleep stage to the brain. I’ll ask you to describe anything you’re sensing or noticing or feeling, and encourage you to consider the memory from a present day perspective. In between sets of bilateral stimulation, we’ll stop to discuss any observations you may have up through that point. In this phase you will access your traumatic memory and as well as identify the negative belief about yourself. Often though people know the negative belief is not true, they suffer an emotional reaction to the belief, reflecting unresolved feelings. Upon identifying the negative belief, you will chose a positive belief that you would like to replace the negative one – and we’ll work to increase the strength of the positive belief.
Memory is a continuum and we’ll resume mimicking the REM sleep stage and exploring all your senses until we’ve reached an end point for that session. Over time and sessions we’ll work through any and all unpleasant memories that may be hidden or trapped in your past.
Phase 8 involves stepping back and taking a look at our previous sessions. We’ll explore if either your symptoms or your reflections of the targeted memory have diminished or transformed in some way. We’ll also consider if any related memories have evolved in some way – and if any one of them (related memories) should be a next targeted memory to apply EMDR therapy onto.
Benefits of EMDR Therapy
EMDR reduces the severity and intensity of your symptoms by processing hidden and trapped traumatic memories from the nervous system, which includes the brain. Though the memories will still be present, they will feel far less significant, disturbing, and disruptive to your healthy daily functioning. Be mindful today you can process and release stuck memories from the past with newly acquired tools and techniques acquired in therapy and from the vantage point of a sophisticated adult.
In EMDR therapy you will gain new and interesting insights into past events and or remember details that you’ve completely forgotten. EMDR therapy has helped people reconnect with loved ones and or understand them in a different light and can help you let go of resentment and anger while creating space for fresh new experiences.
Negative experiences have an outsized impact on the internal dialogue we all harbor. Most of our negative self-talk originates from our relationships and traumatic events. EMDR therapy can not only diminish the pain of a traumatic memory, but it can also evolve for the better – our perspective of ourselves enabling our internal dialogue to bloom. Through EMDR therapy we install fresh, positive self-beliefs which can improve confidence, mood, and relationships. When we think positively and kindly of ourselves, we can change our internal dialogue. EMDR therapy packs the promise to change one’s internal dialogue and shed the negative beliefs that have been weighing one down in every direction of their life. Sound interesting? Reach us for a more comprehensive conversation on how EMDR therapy may be helpful to you.
Evidence Supporting the Effectiveness of EMDR Therapy
EMDR therapy is supported with an extensive amount of controlled research & case reports as an empirically validated treatment of trauma and other adverse life experiences.
- The Role of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy in Medicine: EMDR therapy provides physicians and other clinicians with an efficient approach to address psychological and physiologic symptoms stemming from adverse life experiences.
- EMDR beyond PTSD: A Systematic Literature Review : EMDR therapy as useful psychotherapy to treat trauma-associated symptoms in patients with comorbid psychiatric disorders.
- EMDR Therapy & full remission of depression EMDR Study
- EMDR Therapy & effective in treating trauma in children. Summary of research studies
- EMDR Therapy & effective in treating panic disorder. A 2017 study
- EMDR Therapy & effective in treating PTSD. A 2018 study
(EMDR treatment applies a research-based therapeutic approach that originally relied on visual bilateral stimulation. We also have technology that will enable us to achieve bilateral stimulation without having to move your eyes from side to side).
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