Do you find yourself trapped in your own brain? Is a distressing memory stuck, replaying over and over? Do you intellectually know that you are not to blame for what has happened, but continue to struggle with negative beliefs about yourself? Do you react one way, wishing you could react differently, more appropriate or positive? Would you like for that traumatizing situation to become a distant memory? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, EMDR therapy could be beneficial for you.
The human brain routinely manages new information and experiences, appropriately processing and storing the information. However, when something out of the ordinary occurs and the brain is overwhelmed by a distressing event or cumulative distressing events, the natural coping mechanisms can become overloaded. This overloading can result in the distressing events becoming stuck, creating emotional wounds.
Research shows that the brain can heal from emotional wounds just as the body recovers from physical wounds. When you cut your hand, your body works to repair it. If the wound becomes infected or repeated injuries occur, the wound will not heal. But, if the wound is cleaned out, it can heal properly. EMDR suggests a similar process with the brain. The brain, like the body, naturally works to repair its wounds. When a disturbing event occurs, an infection can cause the emotional wound to become inflamed and can cause intense suffering. Once the infection is cleaned out, healing can resume. Using EMDR therapy protocols and procedures, therapists can help clients activate these natural healing processes.
EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment: history-taking, preparation, assessment, desensitization, installation, body scan, closure, and reevaluation. Eye movements, or bilateral stimulations, are used during the reprocessing phases. The therapist will direct eye movements back and forth across the client’s field of vision. It is hypothesized that the bilateral stimulation in EMDR therapy works similarly to REM sleep, the active sleep stage characterized by rapid eye movements, low muscle tone, and vivid dreams. REM sleep is believed to be when the brain reorganizes itself by forming new connections between brain cells, storing relevant information, and cleaning itself of useless information.
When distressing events occur and the brain is overwhelmed, the person’s experiences (images, thoughts, feelings, and sensations) are stored in the same form it was initially experienced. When these stuck memories go untreated, these initial feelings and body sensations can automatically arise, coloring our perceptions of similar present situations. A rape victim may continue experiencing the fear or have visions of the perpetrators face years after the rape. Through the bilateral stimulations, these experiences can be processed, sorted out, and stored appropriately. Effective EMDR therapy will help the rape victim to continue to live life without constant fear, anxiety, and recurring flashbacks; rather, the person will have more appropriate and healthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Because the wounds have been cleaned out, new connections are allowed to be made. Often, clients walk away from EMDR therapy feeling empowered with new positive core beliefs about themselves. Inherently, the emotional wounds have not just healed, but they have also been transformed.
If you have experienced trauma, distressing events, emotional difficulty, or just find yourself stuck in your thoughts and behaviors, I encourage you to seek an EMDR trained therapist.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a psychotherapy treatment discovered, developed, and termed by Francine Shapiro, PH.D. It was originated to reduce negative emotions associated with memories of distressing events. A three-pronged protocol is utilized to address 1) memories of past experiences, 2) present triggers, and 3) desired responses for future situations. The goal is to establish understanding that will lead to healthy behaviors and interactions.
There are 8 phases of EMDR treatment: 1) history, 2) preparation, 3) assessment, 4) desensitization, 5) installation, 6) body scan, 7) closure, and 8) reevaluation. The length of time spent on each phase varies from client to client. Phases 1-3 focus on history taking, assessing client readiness, evaluating and teaching stress management skills, and setting up the reprocessing phases. Eye movements, or bilateral stimulations, are used during the reprocessing phases, phases 4-6. The therapist will alternate between directing eye movements back and forth and obtaining feedback from the client. Feedback consists of new information, images, emotions, and body sensations experienced during the eye movements. To ensure client stability, each processing session will be debriefed; and the client will be encouraged to complete a relaxation exercise (phase 7). In the last phase, client’s progress, chosen memory, and remaining memories will be evaluated.
EMDR is guided by Shapiro’s Adaptive Information Processing model (AIP). AIP suggests that memory networks, or the patterns in which memories are associated, are the root of health and pathology. When an experience is successfully processed, the memory is adaptively stored in the brain. We can then better understand past experiences; and we are better able to handle future similar situations. However, when the brain is overwhelmed, it stores the disturbing event, and the accompanying images, emotions, beliefs, and physical sensations, in a memory network that is isolated and prevented from connecting with more useful, adaptive networks. Consequently, present day situations tend to trigger these isolated memory networks, creating PTSD symptoms, as well as, symptoms of other mental disorders. When EMDR processing begins, new information comes to mind, appropriate connections are made, and disturbing memories are unlocked and released. As a result, emotional distress and problematic symptoms are eliminated, insights occur, and new learning emerges.
In addition to its use for traumatic experiences, studies show a high degree of effectiveness with the following populations:
Phobias Depression Attachment Disorder
Panic Disorder Conduct Problems Self-Esteem
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Grief and Mourning Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Sexual Dysfunction Pedophilia Psychotic Disorders
Chronic Pain Migraine Headaches Phantom Limb Pain
Traditional therapy focuses on shifting emotions, thoughts, and responses resulting from disturbing experiences; whereas, EMDR focuses on changing the way in which a memory is stored, thus reducing and eliminating the problematic symptoms. The insights gained in EMDR therapy result from the client’s own intellectual and emotional processes, rather than from a therapist’s interpretation. The therapist will facilitate self-healing by intervening as little as possible. The therapist will be more direct than traditional therapy; and little empathy and active listening will be offered during the processing phases. However, the therapist will continually assess and support the client. Unlike other trauma-focused therapies, EMDR does not include prolonged exposure or detailed descriptions of the disturbing memories; rather, the therapist needs just enough information to create the memories to process.
EMDR is considered to be safe with fewer side effects than many prescription medications. It is the client’s brain doing the healing and the client is the one in control. However, there are some aspects to be mindful of with EMDR. Some clients may experience high levels of emotion, vivid images, and intense sensations as unresolved memories surface. As uncomfortable as this may be, it is best to allow these experiences to process through. The therapist will continually be assessing the client and will debrief at the close of each processing. The client may continue experiencing memories, flashbacks, dreams, feelings, or sensations between sessions. Containment exercises and self-control/ soothing strategies will be developed to utilize during and between sessions.
Most of us have heard of the concept of “recovery.” However, we likely think of it as something that adults are involved in. We generally don’t think of children going through a recovery process. In this episode, family therapist and registered play therapist, Nancy Soliz, joins us to discuss the recovery process for children who are impacted by trauma and addiction. We hope you will join us for this LIVE discussion.
Nancy is a graduate of Kansas State University with a Master’s degree in Family Studies and Human Services after receiving her Bachelor of Science from Oklahoma State University in Family Relations and Child Development. Nancy is a Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor and co-owner of the Oklahoma Play Therapy Training Institute. Nancy has also served as president for the Oklahoma Association for Play Therapy. As a result of her interest in trauma and attachment issues, Nancy worked as the Director of Social Services at The Bair Foundation in Oklahoma City as well as with military families in Ft. Riley, Kansas. Nancy has completed the training for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) as well as the beginning training in Dyadic Development Psychotherapy (DDP) and Theraplay. Nancy is currently in private practice at Family Solutions. Nancy lives with her husband and children in Oklahoma City and enjoys her work furthering the practice of play therapy with families and children.
That time of the year had rolled around once again. It’s a time where homes are transformed into haunted houses, grocery stores stock up on pumpkins of all shapes and sizes, businesses line their offices with candy corn and cotton spider webs, and family and friends gather around the television to watch Michael Myers haunt and terrorize a community with a butcher knife and painfully slow walk. If that isn’t enough description for you, I am talking about HALLOWEEN!!
People’s thoughts and feelings about this “holiday” are much like anything else in the world, in that, we fall into different camps. There is a camp that is perfectly okay with dressing their children up as ghouls, goblins, and murderous creatures, so as long as they are having fun. You have to admit, there is something endearing but yet disturbing about hearing the sweet voice of a 6 year old, as she holds her bag out for a sugary treat, and the words “Trick or Treat” are uttered from under a bloody hockey mask. There is also a camp of people that is adamantly anti-Halloween for very obvious reasons. It’s hard for me to hold that against them. Any reasonable person can see how this dark holiday is often taken too far, especially when we are working harder, more than ever, to preserve the innocence of our children. But, then, there is a camp that has mixed emotions about this holiday – the in-betweeners. Whichever camp you fall into, I hope this article will help you look at this odd holiday a bit differently.
Although I do agree that this holiday is often taken too far, especially for children, I do think our culture needs a holiday like this in the line-up. In modern American culture, we have worked very hard and diligently to conquer pain and suffering in our effort to achieve comfort. One might be able to argue that we have done fairly well at that. I am not so convinced. I am more likely to believe that we have simply mastered the skill of “MASKing” our pain rather than truly and effectively dealing with it.
There was a time where pain, suffering, and loss wasn’t heavily feared, but understood as simply a part of life. For instance, many old fairy tales were dark and HORRIFIC, but they have since been re-written to have sweeter, happier endings. Did you know the Little Mermaid dies in the original story? Did you know that in Cinderella’s story, the wicked step-sisters carved their own feet with a knife in effort to get them to fit into the glass slipper? Yeah! Pretty dark, right? So why have we tamed these stories?
It can be argued that before the world of modern medicine, stories were told in effort to give healing and comfort. Before the existence of SSRI’s and other psycho-pharmaceuticals, when times were dark, stories may been used as an appropriate and healthy form of emotional medication. Dr. Sunwolf says:
“Loss may, in fact, be necessary in life. Folktales are full of characters coping with ‘lack’ in their lives; something missing and mourned for often initiates the tale…”
In other words, the stories were often dark and disturbing because they were relatable. And hearing these stories as they circulated a community and culture may have helped us, at one time, deal better and more effectively with the darkness of life.
Now we live in a world of modern medicine and in a culture with a very low pain tolerance. For instance, if you experience the slightest bit of anxiety, you could easily go to your primary care physician, spend 10 minutes in examination, tell him/her your symptoms, and likely walk away with a prescription for an SSRI or some other psychotropic medication. We do NOT like discomfort, so much so, that we will do almost anything to avoid it. Let me clarify something, I firmly believe that psychotropic meds have a useful and appropriate purpose in our culture, but I also think they are overprescribed and under-monitored.
Thus, as a culture, I think we have mastered the art of masking. “What does all this have to do with Halloween?” Well, Halloween is an event where we look forward to dressing up. We look forward to painting our faces, fastening our capes, or even wearing masks of our favorite pop-culture or horror film characters. But, what if Halloween isn’t about being someone different than we are? What if Halloween is actually about showing another side of ourselves, possibly a darker side that we have not been allowed to show for the other 364 days of the year?
The reason I think we need this holiday is because we have become so good at hiding our pain, hiding our darkness, that this single day of the year allows for the opportunity to share our darkness with others in a way that is culturally permissible. In essence, Halloween is more about taking off our masks than putting them on.
I don’t necessarily think that designating one day a year to share your dark side is the healthiest approach. Maybe that is why we tend to go overboard on Halloween. When we harbor this side of ourselves most of our lives, it can often come out in very big, and, sometimes, destructive ways. However, this is the culture we live in. It is one that prefers to mask pain as opposed to more effective measures of healing. That is probably not going to change any time soon. So, meanwhile, as I continue to do my part in the “unmasking effort” (e.g., awareness building, my own therapy), I will continue to embrace Halloween, and join in with a culture that has designated this single day to let our guard down so we can playfully share a darker side of ourselves (within reason, of course).
As much as I enjoy this holiday, I would encourage you to join me on this journey of unmasking America. We can do this by breaking the stigma that is attached to the pursuit of mental and relational health. Here are three ways you can help. Each step requires a bit more courage than the previous one:
1. Share this article. It doesn’t HAVE to be this particular piece, but sharing articles and videos that support the mental health journey on your social media accounts is one way you can spread awareness and communicate your support. Follow Psychology Today and Psych Central on Facebook. They tend to post quality, well-written material. You are also welcome to follow us on social media. Here are links to the following accounts: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.
2. Begin your own personal mental health journey. This is a big step. The reality is that this world is a difficult place to live. It can be very dark and disturbing. If you have lived three decades on the planet, then you likely have seen and been impacted by this darkness. Don’t wait any longer. If you have been toying with the idea of getting therapy, then do so today. Here are a couple therapist directories you can search to find therapists in your area: Psychology Today, Good Therapy, and Sex Help (Sex Addiction Treatment).
3. Tell your story. The disclaimer I want to add here is that you should be very cautious and intentional about telling the story about your mental health and recovery journey. Don’t do it on an emotional whim. Whoever you tell your story to needs to have earned the right to hear it. The best place to begin is with your therapist or trusted mentor who can guide you through the process.
Join us ONLINE for this LIVE with as we discuss EMDR treatment with licensed therapist, Derek Thomason. Eye-Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing may sound odd, but it so happens to be a very effective form of trauma treatment. We look forward to seeing you ONLINE.