So, What's EMDR?

So, What's EMDR?

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EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a type of trauma therapy that allows people to understand and process unconscious or subconscious memories, so those memories can be fully understood and healing can occur.

Whether it’s considered to be a “little T” trauma, or a “big T” trauma, we all go through things in this life. Sometimes whatever we go through gets stuck in our memory banks, and as a defense mechanism, our brain completely shuts down from any potential threat that we perceive.

It might be helpful to understand how EMDR may work with a simple case study: 

Person A is feeling anxious and preoccupied about attending a family wedding where a family member, whom Person A had a horrible experience with, is going to attend. Despite their protests to their family about going, the family believes that they should “get over it” and move on. They have been having nightmares and intrusive memories of the abuse ever since this issue came up. They avoid taking phone calls or answering emails from their family. Their friends validate their need not to go, but they feel confused, thinking that they should be able to go. They increasingly isolate, passing up invitations to go out with friends, and are working from home whenever they can. Until this event, they have been asymptomatic. They are single with no children. They are physically active and use going to the gym as a means to cope with stress. 

If you can allow me to psychobabble for a moment, we are going to look at four major parts of the brain associated with trauma

  • hippocampus
  • amygdala
  • hypothalamus, and 
  • prefrontal cortex. 

Think of your hippocampus as your memory bank, it’s stored deep in your limbic system and in relation to trauma it is responsible for perceiving future threats based on past experiences

Your amygdala is your fear center smoke detector, it tells you when you have a threat that is very real and little alarms start to go off in your brain. 

The hypothalamus is like the whistleblower, it notices the smoke alarm is going off and it will alert your autonomic nervous system to flight, fight, or freeze

Finally, the prefrontal cortex (or frontal lobes) are like the watchtower that says “if it looks like trauma (hippocampus and amygdala), sounds like trauma (hypothalamus), then it’s a trauma and we need to get out”. 

So for Person A, they perceive the trauma of experiencing yet another moment with their family member that’s scary, all of their brain systems are going haywire, and they just need to get out!

EMDR uses bilateral stimulation, which relaxes all of the systems mentioned above and uses restabilizing tools that gives Person A a safe space to conceptualize what happened with the family member, what is keeping them from attending, how to be free from the pain and bondage of the memory, and back to engaging in the social circles that make them feel safe.

If you find yourself feeling stuck, trapped, or feeling like you’re responding to threats when they’re not really there, perhaps EMDR might be a good fit for you. 

As a licensed professional counselor (LPC) at Lifeologie Counseling Allen, I specialize in EMDR and other therapeutic approaches that help people of all ages who are deeply affected by trauma.

If you live in the Allen, Texas area and you’re not quite sure if EMDR is right for you, but want to explore the possibilities, I offer free 15-minute phone consultations where we can definitely talk about it all. You can request an appointment with me to get started. Outside the great state of Texas, click here to find a Lifeologie therapist who practices EMDR near you!

About Brittany Ertz

Brittany Ertz, LPC specializes in working with individual teens, young adults, adults, couples, and families who are struggling with trauma. She also specializes in treating self-harm, anxiety, depression, and life transitions at Lifeologie Counseling Allen.

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