Kathryn Black, PhD

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

EMDR

Sometimes in our work together you may find a memory or experience or emotion that you are unable to incorporate into your life story. Or you may come to therapy knowing that you have experiences, such an accident, medical procedures, or a significant loss that are unresolved and interfering with your life. If so, I may integrate into our sessions the specific therapy technique of EMDR to help you become “unstuck.”

WHAT IS EMDR?

EMDR is an evidence-based psychotherapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In addition, successful outcomes are well-documented in the literature for EMDR treatment of other psychiatric disorders, mental health problems, and somatic symptoms. The model on which EMDR is based, Adaptive Information Processing (AIP), posits that much of psychopathology is due to the maladaptive encoding of and/​or incomplete processing of traumatic or disturbing adverse life experiences. This impairs the client’s ability to integrate these experiences in an adaptive manner. The eight-phase, three-pronged process of EMDR facilitates the resumption of normal information processing and integration. This treatment approach, which targets past experience, current triggers, and future potential challenges, results in the alleviation of presenting symptoms, a decrease or elimination of distress from the disturbing memory, improved view of the self, relief from bodily disturbance, and resolution of present and future anticipated triggers.

HOW DOES EMDR WORK?

No one knows for sure how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically, but EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way the brain processes information. We know that under very stressful circumstances an event can become “frozen in time,” making remembering a trauma feel as bad as going through it the first time. Such memories can have a lasting effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and relates to other people.

EMDR can restore normal information processing, so that following successful EMDR sessions a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. The person remembers what happened, but the memory is less upsetting. Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing events in a new and less distressing way.

WHAT KINDS OF PROBLEMS CAN EMDR TREAT?

Studies have established EMDR as effective for post traumatic stress, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense have placed EMDR in its highest category of therapies recommended for the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Clinicians have reported success using EMDR in treatment of the following conditions:
• panic attacks
• complicated grief
• dissociative disorders
• disturbing memories
• phobias
• pain disorders
• eating disorders
• performance anxiety
• stress reduction
• addictions
• sexual and/​or physical abuse
• body dysmorphic disorders
• personality disorders

WHAT IS AN EMDR SESSION LIKE?

During EMDR, I work with you to identify a specific problem as the focus of the session. You call to mind the disturbing memory—without having to describe it in detail to me. While you hold in mind thoughts, sensations, an image, and/​or emotions from the event being recalled, I facilitate what is called "dual attention stimulation" of the brain through sound, sight, or touch.

The goal is for the memory to become less disturbing and to become associated with positive thoughts and beliefs about yourself. Each person processes information uniquely, based on personal experiences, and some may experience intense emotions during treatment, but by the end most people report a great reduction in the level of disturbance.

(Adapted from website of the EMDR International Association website and printed materials.)