Clinical Social Worker/Therapy
What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
EMDR is is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma, panic attacks, grief, depression, disturbing memories, phobias, performance anxiety, stress reduction, addictions, and sexual and/or physical abuse. The World Health Organization recommends that people suffering from the above issues be referred for treatments using EMDR, citing it as being 90% effective.
Why would someone see a therapist who uses EMDR as an approach to therapy?
Individuals usually peruse EMDR as a therapeutic approach because they are stuck and the other approaches they’ve sought have not alleviated their distress.
EMDR is appropriate for men, and women, and children of any age. The goal of EMDR therapy is to discard the inappropriate emotions, beliefs, and body sensations caused by unresolved earlier experiences and leave you with the emotions, understanding, and perspectives that will lead to healthier behaviours.
EMDR is not as effective with individuals who have organic trauma to the brain like sustained in an automobile accident or chromosomal abnormalities. The training of the therapist may also limit the effectiveness of EMDR. For instance, one would need advanced training in assisting individuals with severe depression, bi-polar, borderline personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, or dementia. When individuals have neurological disorders, they should consult their physician before starting therapy.
What symptoms would be addressed by EMDR?
- Body Dysmorphic Disorders
- Complicated Grief
- Dissociative Disorders
- Disturbing Memories
- Pain Disorders
- Panic Attacks
- Performance Anxiety
- Personality Disorders
- Post Traumatic Stress
- Sexual and/or Physical Abuse
- Stress Reduction
Who are the therapists who use EMDR here at Safe Harbour?
Aveeve McLaughlin (MSW, RSW) is a clinical social worker who has her basic training in EMDR. She is an integral member of the Safe Harbour team. Andrea and Aveeve are working towards their EMDR certification by working in consultation with an EMDR consultant.
Julie Long (MEd., CCC) is a counsellor who has her basic training and certification in EMDR. She is the founder of Safe Harbour Therapy and is an integral member of the Safe Harbour team. Julie is available to provide consultation to therapists certifying in EMDR as she is an EMDR consultant-in-training who is working in consultation with an approved EMDR consultant.
Founder and Counsellor
Counselling Psychology, Social Worker
Trying to figure out how to choose an EMDR therapist?
Consider answering these questions before choosing a therapist:
1. Do you feel understood by the therapist?
2. Do you feel hopeful that the therapist can help you?
3. Do you feel safe and trust the therapist?
4. Have they undergone their basic EMDR training?
5. What advance training in EMDR have they completed?
6. Are they supervised or do they consult with anyone about their work? And how often?
7. Do they follow the EMDR protocol?
8. Do they use EMDR by itself or in addition to other therapies? How often do they use EMDR in their practice?
What would an EMDR appointment look like?
The beginning of EMDR therapy is just like talk therapy. The therapist learns about the client and their problem(s) and they develop a comfortable, safe relationship (history-taking). The therapist then helps the client uncover where they feel stable in their life, so that when the emotional work of EMDR is underway, the client will still be able to cope with their daily life (preparation).
Once a client is well resourced, the therapist then does a “limbic system scan” to find the “misfiled” trauma information. It works just like a Google search: the thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that distress clients will be identified to “pull up” earlier life events that felt the same way. Clients use their implicit, emotional memory rather than their explicit, cognitive memory to recall these events. The reason the therapist needs to identify these earlier cues is so that any association with the negative event is removed.
Once the events are identified, the client then processes the earliest event they remembered. The therapist asks a series of questions like, when you think of that upsetting moment: what image comes to mind; what words would you use to describe yourself; what emotions do you feel and where do you notice them in your body; and how upsetting does the event feel when you think of it now on a scale of 0-10 (where 0 is not upsetting and 10 is the most upsetting you can imagine).
Once this assessment is complete, the client thinks about those cues while watching the light on the light bar go back and forth, and/or holding paddles that vibrate in one hand and then the other, and/or hearing a beep in one ear and then the other. These back and forth movements stimulate the emotional and thinking brain to cooperate with each other to process and file away the information about the event. We call this back and forth, bi-lateral stimulation (BLS) and the client is conscious or aware during the whole time. It is not hypnosis. The client is always in control and able to stop whenever they choose. It is important that while processing the traumatic event, that the client remain dually aware (aware of the present moment and the traumatic moment at the same time) in order to avoid re-traumatization.
When thinking of an upsetting event and undergoing BLS, a client may notice thoughts or feelings about the event, or nothing at all. Or sometimes after the BLS has paused, a client may notice that their heart isn’t racing as fast and they may feel a calmness in their muscles. The client then continues with BLS until when they think of the upsetting event, it feels 0/10 upsetting and they usually say something like, “well it’s just something that happened and it doesn’t upset me anymore”. This stage of processing is called desensitization.
At that point, the therapist will then ask the client what thought describes themselves when they think of the situation now. It is usually changed from negative to positive. The clinician will add a set of BLS so that the brain will then file that new positive thought with the event. Once the client feels 7/7 sure of themselves, the therapist will have the client think of the situation, the positive thought, and notice the sensations in their body. If the body senses discomfort, then more BLS is done until that feeling is gone. If nothing is felt in the body and the client still feels 0/10 about the event, BLS will be used to associate the new body sensation with the event. When a client then thinks of the upsetting event, the image, thoughts, emotions, and body sensations will have changed to a more adaptive resolution. The event is now properly filed or reprocessed! This same process is repeated for the worst event, present triggers, and idea of the event happening again in the future.
EMDR therapy can be completed in as little as 4 sessions or can take several years, each client is different. How long therapy takes depends on several factors like: whether one’s childhood felt safe and supported by loving parents or caregivers, if trauma was consistent in one’s life or sparse, whether the traumas were big or small, whether one feels supported in life now, whether one is well resourced, or how ready one feels for therapy.
How does EMDR work?
EMDR harnesses our brain’s ability to change – neuroplasticity. Norman Doidge says, neurons that fire together, wire together. If you’ve experienced much adversity and trauma in your life, then that information is hard-wired in your brain. EMDR helps the body rewire the brain to a more adaptive stance so that you don’t relive or use past information to make sound decisions today.
Human beings have three different “brains”: a reptilian brain responsible for automatic processing like breathing; a mammalian/emotional brain to protect us using the “flight, fight, freeze” response; and our “newer” more evolved/ thinking brain that is unique to humans.
Our daily mental health is derived from a constant attempt to find balance between these brains. When we sleep, our body repairs. During REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage of sleep, we coordinate the information about the events of our day: we keep what is important and file away what is not important for survival. We call this our Adaptive Information Processing System: our natural compass that guides the healing process. It is exactly like how our body innately knows how to heal a physical cut – with an emotional cut, our body uses eye movements to repair the emotional wound.
Who developed EMDR?
EMDR was developed by psychologist, Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1987 and was originally used for veterans of the Vietnam War struggling with PTSD. In his book, the Instinct to Heal, psychiatrist David Servan-Schrieber, noted that most used database for PTSD (at the Veterans Administration Hospital in the US) showed that more controlled clinical experiments used EMDR than any other treatment for PTSD. People use what works and EMDR works! He also said that three “meta-analyses” (studies that analyzed previously published studies), showed that EMDR was at least as effective as the best existing treatment, seemed the best tolerated by clients, and was the fastest treatment method.