“When the “child self” of an adult who was traumatized as a child becomes activated, the memory networks of the “child self” are activated… For instance, the sound of a man’s loud, angry voice may cause an otherwise strong, powerful woman to feel helpless and frightened, as she did as a child with her alcoholic, abusive father. She may lose contact with the adult information that she can take care of herself now. These splits do not mean that these clients have character disorders. They are the expression of unprocessed traumatic memories that happened in childhood. EMDR processing allows to clear the disturbance of the “child self”, and to integrate it in an adaptive way to the adult self.”
Dr, Laurel Parnell, Ph.D., EMDR in the Treatment of Adults Abused as Children.
The creator of EMDR, Dr. Francine Shapiro, now says that if she had to rename the modality, she would call it, more accurately so, Accelerated Information Processing (AIP). I use both acronyms interchangeably. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. This powerful psychotherapeutic approach allows the processing and clearing of the debilitating physical, emotional and mental symptoms traumatic memories have on one’s life. What makes EMDR different from any other trauma processing modality is the bilateral stimulation which engages both hemispheres of the brain.
Initially therapists had their clients follow their fingers, which moved from side to side. Since the 1980’s, when the approach was initially discovered, other forms of bilateral stimulation have proven to be as effective as eye movement, and not as invasive as having someone’s fingers moving back and forth in front of one’s eyes. I personally use a small device call the NeuroTek which allows clients to hold two tappers, one in each hand. This device allows to adjust the bilateral stimulation, both in intensity and in speed, to the liking of each client, and therefore make the reprocessing less cumbersome.
AIP is one of the most studied approach for the treatment of traumatic experiences. Many clinical trails for the treatment of trauma, along with numerous brain scan studies, have demonstrated that AIP lowers, and most often totally nullifies, the mental, emotional and physical charge traumatic memories have on one’s mind and brain. While it is true that people will still remember the event of what happened, the charge will be gone. Many clients report looking at a small black and white picture of what used to be an IMAX Dolby Theater movie. Neuroscience studies conclude that AIP helps process implicit memory fragments into explicit narrative memory recollection. The software of the brain has been reset.
How Does EMDR work:
Instead of just talking about what happened and feeling highly activated, even flooded, which in most cases make things worse because it activates the parts of the brain where the memory is stored, the person is walked through a protocol that monitors the level of activation; all while making sure that an experience of safety in the here-and-now is maintained. The dual attention created by the sensory experience of the bilateral stimulation (which keeps the body in the present), and the recollection of what comes up as the person talks about the incident, allows the brain, and the body to discharge what was once overwhelming. As importantly, AIP allows to create new, more resilient and adaptive meaning.
Current brain research shows that when bilateral stimulation and the EMDR protocol come together, both hemispheres of the brain communicate more seamlessly. Memories that were once frozen in time — unconscious — with all of the emotional charge they carried, are now experienced as events that happened in the past, but no longer carry any disturbing charge. People freed from the negative effects of their traumas will often say things like: “I know this awful thing happened to me, and that I was really scared… but now I can truly say that it doesn’t have a grip on my life anymore. — It’s a memory, not a part of my reality anymore. I feel that I can move on, and truly leave this behind. — I may not forget what happened, but it’s almost like it happened to someone else”. Once a memory has been truly processed, a new perception, understanding and meaning of what took place arise. Resiliency is restored!
The speed at which people process their trauma(s) vary from person to person. Sometimes total clearing is resolved in just one session. This applies for single event traumatic experiences for someone who has had a resilient, reliable base of safety and security in life. As we would expect, repetitive traumas over long periods of time take longer to clear. Whatever the case may be, EMDR is definitely one of the best way to address traumatic experiences and memories. EMDP allows for a genuine body-mind connection, where wisdom and empowerment can be experienced.