What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy that is often effective in the treatment of memories or experiences from the past that continue to cause you distress.  For most people, most memories tend to be stored as just the story of what happened, with few really vivid images or emotions.  

 In contrast, memories for stressful and traumatic experiences can be stored in the brain with vivid pictures, sounds, thoughts, feelings and body sensations. The impact of these memories can cause depression, anxiety, relationship conflicts, intimacy difficulties, parenting problems, and many other issues, including nightmares and flashbacks.  Those traumatic memories cause us to react to our present situations based on what we went through in the past. 

 EMDR processing allows the brain to learn what is necessary and useful from the disturbing past experience, and restore the event into memory in an adaptive, healthy, and non-distressing form. It helps us learn from the negative experience of the past; desensitize present triggers that are inappropriately distressing; and incorporate templates for moving into the future with more comfort and ease. When an event has been sufficiently processed, we remember it, but do not experience the old emotions or sensations in the present.  The goal of EMDR is to be informed by our memories, not controlled by them. 

 If you decide that EMDR is right for you, we will begin by developing a treatment plan. We will first work on strengthening positive and calming resources to help you deal effectively with the past memories and present “triggers” that are creating discord. 

 EMDR processing then uses alternating eye movements (watching the therapist’s fingers move back and forth across your field of vision) to reactivate the different parts of disturbing memories.  This is what normally happens in REM or dream sleep, and it allows the brain to reprocess the experience.  While this process undoubtedly seems odd at first, it is designed to help encourage your brain to process distressing material in a way that does not overwhelm you.  It is your brain’s own ability to heal that will be doing all the work and you are in control! 

 When we work with disturbing memories, you may re-experience disturbing physical sensations, emotions, images or sounds from the original experience. These can sometimes be fairly vivid at first.  These emotional peaks are common during EMDR processing and there are many safeguards in the EMDR process to help you work on painful experiences without becoming overwhelmed.  With reprocessing, these memories tend to fade until they are no longer disturbing.  After reprocessing is complete, they will be just like memories for most experiences – with just the story of what happened and without disturbing images, sensations or emotions. 

 During re-processing people often make new connections and gain new insights.  Occasionally during reprocessing people remember experiences that they had forgotten about or deliberately suppressed.  If that were to happen would that be OK with you?  If at any point during eye movements, you feel a need to stop and talk about what is going on, just raise your hand to signal stop.  Again, you are always in control. 

 EMDR is an evidenced based treatment that has been proven to be effective in treating trauma in many studies.  EMDR is recognized as the first-line treatment for trauma related challenges by many US and international organizations including the American Psychiatric Association, the Department of Defense, the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the World Health Organization. 

 EMDR and Cancer

A cancer diagnosis can be one of the most stressful and destabilizing experiences that a person can go through.  It is a traumatic series of events in which a person’s life is threatened, their physical and emotional health is compromised, and their future becomes uncertain.  Long after their diagnosis, many people continue to feel vulnerable, anxious, and scared.  Certain memories and reminders of their cancer can trigger a flood of disturbing emotions.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) Therapy is an evidenced based treatment that has been proven to be effective in the treatment of memories or experiences from the past that continue to cause distress. 

EMDR Therapy can be used to address disturbing cancer-related memories, including:

  • The moment someone was diagnosed

  • A difficult treatment or surgery

  • A comment from a doctor that you can’t forget

  • Disappointments in your relationships

  • Ways in which cancer is negatively affecting your current life

  • Fear and anxiety about the future, such as the fear of recurrence

EMDR processing allows a person to learn what is necessary and useful from the experience of having cancer.  People often make new connections and gain new insights.  The goal of EMDR is to be informed by our memories of cancer, not controlled by them.  In other words, cancer can become just one chapter of your story, but it is by no means the whole story!

 I am so excited to now be offering EMDR Therapy for my clients at Colorado Cancer Counseling!  

Please contact me with questions and for more information about how EMDR might be beneficial for you.  For additional information about EMDR please visit www.emdria.org