EMDR Therapy in Stapleton
I use the EMDR therapy model of care to treat trauma, relational trauma, family of origin issues, PTSD, anxiety issues, grief and many other issues that bring clients to counseling.
EMDR has proven to provide quicker relief than other previously applied counseling methods, which makes it become more and more popular.
What is EMDR Therapy?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy. EMDR is an integrative therapy that helps people heal from traumatic or upsetting events.
EMDR Therapy has gotten worldwide attention for helping millions of people heal from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) caused from traumatic events such as: childhood abuse, emotional abuse, rape, sexual abuse, auto accidents and combat. EMDR Therapy can also help people heal after events that have been disturbing such as; postpartum depression, traumatic birth, divorce, life transitions, grief, anxiety, depression and much more.
EMDR can work on such a wide range of issues because of the way it helps our brains integrate and process past events. When we experience a trauma, the brain stores the disturbing event in a memory network in a way that isolates it and prevents it from connecting with more useful, adaptive information. So instead of learning and resolving the memory, the old material just keeps getting triggered over and over again. In short, it’s gotten “stuck” in our neural networks in our brains and therefore keeps triggering difficult reactions in the present.
In another part of your brain, in a separate network, is most of the information you need to resolve it. It’s just prevented from linking up to the old stuff. Once we start processing with EMDR, the two networks can link up and new information can come to mind and resolve the old problems.
EMDR is designed to help a person process these stuck pieces so that the memory is no longer triggering present day reactions and difficulty. It does this by activating our body’s healing system to help process and integrate the information that got stuck when the trauma happened.
Once the new connections are made, the negative emotions should diminish. I know it can be scary to sit with these old traumatic memories, so one thing I want you to know is that by doing EMDR, we aren’t adding anything negative to what’s already there. Instead, we are opening up some neural pathways that will allow the tough negative stuff to drain out and diminish. This will help you resolve the memory. EMDR will not erase the memory; rather you will be able to remember the story without all the emotional charge that was distressing before the treatment.
In EMDR Therapy we are working both with the challenges of the past as well as ongoing strengthening and resourcing. Through this focus of healing the past AND strengthening your ability to handle the future, clients are often able to achieve lasting healing that spreads to multiple areas of their life.
Is EMDR going to make me re-live what happened to me?
In an EMDR session, I ensure that clients are grounded in the safety of the present moment in my office. This allows the client to process their past trauma while staying safe and grounded. Think of it this way: during EMDR, you’ll have one foot in the past and one foot in the present at all times. You are always in control of an EMDR session and can stop at any time.
What is Trauma?
In general, trauma is a disturbing event that diminishes your sense of control. This can range from something horrific and life-threatening, such as being raped, to something heartbreaking and life-changing, such as a felt sense that you’re not good enough or worthwhile of love.
Dr. Gabor Mate explains trauma in a beautiful way. He said:
“The essence of trauma is that, as a result of the overt abuse or neglect, or because of the relational trauma, we lose the connection to our essence. That’s what the trauma is. The trauma is not what happened; the trauma is not that I was raped, the trauma is not that I was abandoned, the trauma is not that I was hit, the trauma is not that my parents didn’t know how to listen to me. That’s not the trauma; the trauma is that, as a result of that, I lost the connection to myself. Hence, I lost the connection to my essential qualities: my joy, my vitality, my clarity, my wisdom, my power, my strength, my courage. That’s the trauma!”
Because we are human, most of us have experienced trauma, or a disconnection to our essence, in some way.
How does EMDR work?
The weird part about EMDR is that it uses something we call the Dual Attention Stimulation, which we call DAS. DAS may seem a little odd, but it involves alternating stimulation on both sides of your body. This can be done by following my fingers with your eyes, holding pulsers in both hands, or hearing small sounds alternating between both ears.
Researchers are still studying this, but so far, our best guess is that using DAS elicits an orienting response, which means that the DAS will immediately have a physiological and behavioral change as your body responds to the stimulation.
This response is based on Francine Shapiro’s Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) theory, which is the system in our bodies that helps us heal. Similar to the body’s natural move toward healing after a physical injury, AIP suggests that psychologically the individual also naturally moves toward healing after a trauma.
This is really just a fancy way of saying that DAS can cause you to deeply relax, which will help those adaptive connections to happen.
When you’re doing EMDR, sometimes it can be a bit intense as you face these old memories, because you’ve been working so hard to not face it for all of these years. But, think of it this way — the old stuff is effecting you in so many different ways every day —once we process through the old stuff, while some unpleasant sensation may arise during EMDR, that is a sign that the old material is leaving the nervous system.
How was EMDR discovered?
Dr. Francine Shapiro unintentionally discovered EMDR Therapy in 1987. While she was walking in a park she was thinking about some upsetting thoughts and feelings and noticed that they suddenly disappeared. She was intrigued by this and decided to study what happened that helped her feel better while walking in the park. As a psychology graduate student, she was able to research what had happened for her more closely. She began experimenting and observed that when she moved her eyes rapidly back and forth while thinking of something disturbing, the disturbance began to go away. She eventually developed a protocol that could be duplicated and studied, which is now known as EMDR Therapy (or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy).
Dr. Shapiro began to study and use her new protocol with people suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and found that the people with PTSD after receiving several EMDR Therapy sessions found that their symptoms decreased and they started to feel better. Since then, EMDR has become one of the most researched therapy models to treat trauma. It is now one of the most recommended and researched psychotherapeutic treatments for trauma.
Symptoms of Trauma
Barb Maiberger provides a list of symptoms that can occur from experiencing trauma or life disturbing events:
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Experience sleep problems (difficulty falling or staying asleep)
- Find yourself hyper vigilant (feeling constantly on-guard)
- Over-react to noises or other environmental cues that didn’t bother you before
- Find yourself irritable, angry and experiencing outbursts
- Have nightmares
- Have recurrent and intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event
- Act or feel as if the experience is happening again in the present
- Experience intense psychological distress and/or physiological arousal when exposed to (internal or external) stimuli that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event
- Experience flashbacks (suddenly feeling as though the event is happening in the present)
- Experience sleep problems; difficulty falling or staying asleep (often to avoid nightmares associated with the event)
- Attempt to avoid thoughts or feelings associated with the traumatic event
- Attempt to avoid activities or situations that evoke memories of the traumatic event
- Find yourself unable to recall an important aspect of the traumatic event
- Feel detached or estranged from others and your daily life
- Sense you’re unable to feel as you once did; you feel numb or spaced out, unable to care or to love
- Feel less interest and pleasure in activities
- Feel a sense of foreboding and anticipate a limited future; you don’t expect to have a career, marriage, children, or a long life
If you are experiencing several of these symptoms you might benefit from EMDR Therapy.
IS EMDR Therapy Right for You?
People tend to think that EMDR only helps people who suffer from severe experiences like auto accidents, war, sexual abuse and rape. If you have suffered from these traumas, EMDR might be very helpful for you. But other issues can also be helped with EMDR—such as anxiety, depression, family problems, relationship problems, parenting difficulties, difficult transitions, etc.
Answer the following questions with a “Yes” or “No” to see if EMDR might be helpful to you.
I find it difficult to be assertive in my relationships at work or at home. Yes ____ No ____
I struggle with my body image thinking I’m fat when others think my body is thin. Yes ____ No ____
I over eat when I get emotionally upset. Yes ____ No ____
I feel anxious or depressed most of the time. Yes ____ No ____
I have the tendency to procrastinate and feel bad about myself. Yes ____ No ____
I have behaviors that sabotage my efforts to succeed. Yes ____ No ____
I have a low tolerance for frustration or anger. Yes ____ No ____
I have a difficult time concentrating. Yes ____ No ____
I have lost interest in activities that used to bring me pleasure. Yes ____ No ____
I fight a lot and experience a lot of anger. Yes ____ No ____
I abuse substances and have an addiction. Yes ____ No ____
I struggle with making decisions. Yes ____ No ____
I experience somatic Illnesses that doctors can’t explain. Yes ____ No ____
I am experiencing some sexual dysfunction. Yes ____ No ____
I feel panic a lot during the day or night. Yes ____ No ____
If you said “yes” to any of the above questions you might benefit from some EMDR Therapy.
The above questionnaire was compiled by Barb Maiberger.
What's the Bottom Line?
The bottom line is that EMDR is one of the most research validated techniques to process trauma. Clients like it because it is quick, effective, body and brain-based (doesn’t require a ton of talking), and comprehensive with a success rate of 80-90%.
EMDR therapy can jump-start the body-mind’s natural healing process and help the individual move toward an adaptive resolution, so that reminders, consciously or unconsciously, of the event no longer hold the same power to cause distress.
Frequently Asked Questions about EMDR
How many EMDR sessions will I need?
Using EMDR, Treatment can be very rapid, however, the number of sessions will vary according to the complexity of the issues being dealt with. After an EMDR session, there may be a strong sense of relief, a feeling of openness and healing. EMDR therapy is often thought of as cost-effective, requiring fewer sessions than traditional therapy. However, it is important to know that EMDR is an 8-phase treatment, and will require more than a few sessions for the best outcomes. This is because as your therapist, I will ensure I have a thorough history of you and have taught you multiple self-care resources before diving into EMDR sessions. After a therapeutic alliance has been established and history has been taken, relief from emotional distress often comes within the first few EMDR sessions.
Can I stay with my current therapist and still receive EMDR therapy from you?
Because I want to ensure the best possible outcomes for you, my preference is to work with you individually while you are not working with another therapist. In some circumstances, I can provide adjunctive EMDR sessions. With adjunctive EMDR therapy clients remain under the care and continue to receive treatment with their original therapist, but see me for EMDR sessions. This is a process that requires a lot of coordination of care and consideration with all involved parties and will be discussed on a case by case basis.
What is an EMDR session like?
1. In the first sessions, the client’s history and an overall treatment plan are discussed. During this process the therapist identifies and clarifies potential targets for EMDR. Target refers to a disturbing issue, event, feeling, or memory for use as an initial focus for EMDR. Maladaptive beliefs are also identified (e.g., ʺI canʹt trust peopleʺ or ʺI canʹt protect myself.ʺ) During the initial sessions the therapist is creating a safe and welcoming environment for the client to tell their story.
2. Before beginning EMDR for the first time, it is recommended that the client identify a ʺsafe placeʺ‑‑an image or memory that elicits comfortable feelings and a positive sense of self. Besides a safe, calm soothing place many clients will also identify a loving person (real or imagined). This safe place and loving person can be used later to bring closure to an incomplete session or to help a client tolerate a particularly upsetting session.
3. In developing a target for EMDR, prior to beginning the eye movement, a snapshot image is identified that represents the target and the disturbance associated with it. Using that image is a way to help the client focus on the target, a negative cognition (NC) is identified –a negative statement about the self that feels especially true when the client focuses on the target image. A positive cognition (PC) is also identified –a positive self statement that is preferable to the negative cognition.
4. The therapist asks the patient to focus simultaneously on the image, the negative cognition, and the disturbing emotion or body sensation. Then the therapist usually asks the client to follow a moving object (a hand held wand or watch a light bar with alternating lights) with his or her eyes; the object moves alternately from side to side so that the clientʹs eyes also move back and forth. Another form of bilateral stimulation is a hand held “tapping device” which can be a alternative to eye movements and is sometimes used with clients. After a set of eye movements, the client is asked to report briefly on what has come up; this may be a thought, a feeling, a physical sensation, an image, a memory, or a change in any one of the above. In the initial instructions to the client, the therapist asks him or her to focus on this thought, and begins a new set of eye movements. Under certain conditions, however, the therapist directs the client to focus on the original target memory or on some other image, thought, feeling, physical sensation, or memory. From time to time the therapist will ask the client about her or his current level of distress. The desensitization phase ends when the SUDS (Subjective Units of Disturbance Scale) has reached 0 or 1.
5. The ʺInstallation Phaseʺ: the therapist asks the client about the positive cognition, if itʹs still valid. After Phase IV, the view of the client on the event/ the initial snapshot image may have changed dramatically. Another PC may be needed. Then the client is asked to ʺhold togetherʺ the snapshot and the (new) PC. Also the therapist asks, ʺHow valid does the PC feel, on a scale from 1 to 7?ʺ New sets of eye movement are issued.
6. The body scan: the therapist asks the client to scan their body for any pain, stress or discomfort. If any distress is identified, the client is asked to concentrate on the discomfort in the body and new sets are issued.
7. Debriefing: the therapist gives appropriate information about what to expect after a EMDR session and support as needed.
8. Re‑evaluation: At the beginning of the next session, the client reviews the week, discussing any new sensations or experiences. The level of disturbance arising from the experiences targeted in the previous session is assessed.
***The above steps can take anywhere from several weeks to several months or even up to a year.
*Adapted from F. Shapiro (2001) Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: Basic principles, protocols and procedures (2nd edition) New York: Guilford Press.
Is EMDR therapy only good for trauma?
EMDR therapy has the most documented results with trauma. However, many other difficulties have been found to be successful with EMDR, such as: performance enhancement, panic attacks, anxiety, phobias, addictions, stress reduction, complicated grief, stage fright, public speaking, and chronic pain.
What are the advantages of EMDR therapy?
Research studies show that EMDR is very effective in helping people process emotionally painful and traumatic experiences. When used in conjunction with other therapy modalities, EMDR can help move you from emotional distress to peaceful resolution.
A benefit of EMDR sessions is that sometimes relief comes very quickly. After a thorough history and therapeutic alliance is established, processing even the most difficult memories can be achieved in a fraction of the time it would have taken with traditional therapy. Another benefit is that very little talking is necessary for processing to happen. Instead of relying on words and talking, we tune into the wisdom of our bodies to help the healing happen. This can be a relief for many clients who have found that talking about the memory only makes it worse.
Studies consistently show that EMDR can neutralize a painful memory.
What problems are helped by EMDR?
In general, EMDR can help clients replace their anxiety and fears with positive images, emotions and thoughts.
The studies to date show a high degree of effectiveness with the following conditions:
- loss of a loved one
- injury of a loved one
- car accident
- work accident
- natural disaster
- witness to violence
- childhood abuse
- victims of violent crimes
- performance anxiety
- stage fright
- anxiety or panic
- childhood trauma
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- post traumatic stress
- bad temper
- overwhelming fears
- panic attacks
- low self-esteem
- relationship problems
- brooding or worrying
- trouble sleeping
EMDR is most effective when used in conjunction with other traditional methods of therapy in treating these and many other emotional disorders.
Who can be helped by EMDR?
EMDR can help relieve a multitude of issues. It has shown to be effective with those who have experienced or witnessed violence, disasters, crimes, sexual assault and other traumas, victims of crime and professionals such as police, emergency workers and firefighters; accident victims and anyone who has experienced a serious loss (such as the death of a close friend of family member, divorce, etc.). EMDR is also very effective treatment for people suffering from phobias–fear of flying, water, spiders, etc.
Because EMDR has the power to relieve any type of emotional block or fear, It can also be used to enhance the performance of athletes, actors, musicians, students, public speakers and executives.
EMDR can also be a powerful modality for parents to use while processing how they were parented as they navigate their own parenting journey.
Are there studies that show that EMDR is effective?
EMDR is one of the most research-validated trauma treatments in our field. You can find multiple research articles here.
How often would I need EMDR therapy?
Typically, an EMDR session lasts 90 minutes.
The history and evaluations are usually done in a few sessions. Then, in some cases, where a single recent traumatic event is involved, a single session of EMDR may be all that is required. However, a more typical course of treatment is somewhere between 5 and 15 sessions usually on a weekly basis. For individuals with a history of multiple painful experiences and years of feeling bad about them, a number of EMDR sessions may be needed.
EMDR is most effective when used in conjunction with other modes of therapy. I work with Pia Mellody’s Post-Induction Therapy Model and interweave EMDR with this model most of the time. At the beginning of your treatment, we will develop a treatment plan together so you know what to expect and how you will reach your goals. Usually, several sessions are necessary for the therapist to evaluate whether or not EMDR is the appropriate choice of therapy.
Is there any discomfort involved in the EMDR process?
EMDR can evoke strong emotions or sensations during the session. However, before beginning EMDR therapy, I will ensure you have the tools and resources necessary to take care of yourself during and after the session. When strong emotions or sensations come up during EMDR, they are processing out of your system, making them a healing part of recovery. The re-experiencing of these unpleasant feelings is brief and they will soon leave you when the process is completed.
What happens between EMDR sessions?
Our brains are amazing in so many ways. EMDR elicits a healing response in our brains, and often this healing and processing continues between sessions. It is a good idea for you to keep a daily log in which to record any unusual or noteworthy thoughts, feelings, or dreams. This log will help me to know if any adjustments in therapy are warranted.
After an EMDR session, there may be a strong sense of relief, a feeling of openness or a stronger sense of aliveness.
From time to time, some clients experience unusual thoughts or vivid dreams that may or may not have any meaning. This is part of the releasing process and should not cause undue concern.
Is EMDR Hypnosis?
No. The healing that takes place with EMDR is much faster than with hypnotherapy. During an EMDR session, the client is awake, alert, and in control at all times.
– Bessel van der Kolk on Effective Trauma Treatment with EMDR, where he describes EMDR as an indespensable trauma treatment.