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Break Free from Trauma: How EMDR Therapy Can Help You Take Control

Updated: Jun 11

EMDR: The Jazz Hands of Trauma Processing

If someone would have told me EMDR would be one of my favorite treatment modalities 10 years ago, I would have laughed. The whole idea of helping people process their trauma with what I used to refer to (and sometimes still do) as "magic fingers" or "jazz hands". I thought here was no way that waving your hands in front of someone was going to work. I mean, I think therapy is pretty magical, but not actual 'wave a magic wand' magical.


I didn't believe it. That was, until I had a trusted colleague who trained and started practicing EMDR. They were so impressed and could not stop talking about how effective it was.

So I called up my own therapist, who I knew did EMDR and set a session to try it out. I was shocked at how much better I felt. I knew I had a traumatic experience that felt "stuck," and it would come up every time I drove past a certain spot. Well when my therapist got started doing the magic jazz hand routine, I felt such intense emotions, I wanted to run. But in a matter of seconds, the emotions started to get quieter and I didn't feel triggered anymore. And I actually no longer feel triggered when I drive past the spot!


I was sold. I signed up for the soonest EMDR training I could, and started learning as much about it as possible. Soon enough I started using EMDR with my clients and they are always shocked out how effective it is! And I get to say "It's all about the Jazz Hands!"


EMDR therapy, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, is a type of psychotherapy that helps individuals process traumatic experiences and reduce their emotional impact. It is a structured, evidence-based therapy that involves using bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements, to help the processing of traumatic memories. EMDR therapy is typically by a trained mental health professional.


Beyond PTSD: The Versatility of EMDR Therapy

EMDR therapy is primarily used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but it can also be effective in treating a range of other mental health conditions, including:


  • Anxiety disorders

  • Depression

  • ADHD

  • Stress disorders

  • Panic attacks

  • Phobias

  • Addiction

  • Chronic pain


EMDR therapy is particularly effective in treating PTSD, as it can help individuals process traumatic memories and reduce the associated symptoms, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and hypervigilance.

When EMDR is used for non-trauma specific problems, your therapist will adjust the process to work for the issue at hand. Don't hesitate to ask your therapist about how EMDR can be used for other mental health issues!


Unlocking the Mystery: The Fascinating Theories Behind How EMDR Therapy Works

The basic premise of EMDR is that traumatic memories can become "stuck" in the brain's information processing system, leading to ongoing distress and symptoms such as anxiety, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts. By engaging in bilateral stimulation while recalling these memories, EMDR aims to facilitate the brain's natural healing processes, allowing the traumatic memories to be reprocessed and integrated into the client's overall memory network in a less distressing way.


During EMDR sessions, clients are asked to focus on a specific traumatic memory while simultaneously tracking the therapist's bilateral stimulation. This process is thought to facilitate the brain's ability to make new connections and associations, ultimately reducing the emotional charge and distress associated with the memory.


Over the course of treatment, clients typically experience a reduction in symptoms related to the targeted traumatic memories, as well as improvements in overall emotional well-being and functioning. EMDR has been widely researched and is considered an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related conditions.


Furthermore, research suggests that EMDR may help the integration of positive cognitions or emotions, such as self-worth and empowerment. By focusing on these positive beliefs or emotions, clients may be better able to counterbalance the negative emotional response associated with the trauma and gradually shift towards a more positive, adaptive outlook.


How EMDR Therapy Can Help You: Benefits and Effectiveness

Are you struggling with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental health conditions? EMDR therapy may be the solution you've been searching for. Unlike traditional therapies that only treat symptoms, EMDR therapy targets the underlying causes of your condition. By processing your traumatic memories, EMDR therapy helps you reduce symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and hypervigilance.


EMDR therapy is not only effective, but it's also time efficient. The therapy typically lasts between 6-12 sessions, making it a cost-effective treatment option for individuals who have limited resources and time.


Like all therapies, EMDR therapy has both risks and benefits. The risks of EMDR therapy are minimal and typically involve discomfort during the processing of traumatic memories. The benefits of EMDR therapy include:

  • Reduced symptoms of PTSD and other mental health conditions

  • Improved mood and emotional well-being

  • Increased self-awareness and insight

  • Improved coping skills and resilience

EMDR therapy is generally considered safe, and the risks are minimal. However, it's important to be aware of potential risks before beginning treatment. Some individuals may experience discomfort or distress during the processing of traumatic memories, which can be emotionally challenging. It's important to discuss any concerns with your therapist and have a safety plan in place in case you experience any distress during the therapy session.


EMDR therapy is not recommended for individuals who have a history of dissociation or certain medical conditions, such as seizures or neurological disorders. It's important to disclose any relevant medical history to your therapist before beginning treatment. Your therapist may be able to work with you about these issues, but it is important to disclose any of these conditions to your therapist.


Despite these potential risks, the benefits of EMDR therapy are significant, including reduced symptoms of PTSD and other mental health conditions, improved mood and emotional well-being, increased self-awareness and insight, and improved coping skills and resilience. Your therapist can help you weigh the potential risks and benefits to decide if EMDR therapy is a suitable treatment option for you.


Inside an EMDR Therapy Session: What to Expect

An EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy session typically involves several stages that are designed to help you to process traumatic memories and reduce their emotional impact. Here's what you can expect during an EMDR therapy session:


  1. Preparation: Your therapist will discuss the EMDR therapy process with you and ask about your medical history and past traumatic experiences.

  2. Assessment: Together, you and your therapist will identify the specific traumatic memory you want to target and rate the intensity of your emotional response to the memory.

  3. Desensitization: Your therapist will guide you through bilateral stimulation, like eye movements or tapping, while you focus on the traumatic memory to help reduce its emotional impact.

  4. Reprocessing: Your therapist will ask you to focus on positive thoughts or feelings to help reprocess the memory and replace negative emotions with more positive ones.

  5. Closure: At the end of the session, your therapist will ask you to rate your emotional response again. If you're still experiencing emotional distress, your therapist may provide you with relaxation techniques.

  6. Follow-up: Your therapist will continue to work with you in subsequent sessions to target the traumatic memory and process it more fully.

EMDR therapy sessions typically last between 60-90 minutes, and the number of sessions required will depend on the severity of your symptoms and the number of traumatic memories that need to be processed. It is important to note that the process of EMDR therapy can be emotionally intense, and you may experience some discomfort during the desensitization phase.

However, many people find that the benefits of EMDR therapy are well worth the effort.


Unlocking Traumatic Memories: Desensitization in EMDR Therapy


Desensitization is one of the main objectives in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy process. Its goal is to help reduce the emotional intensity of traumatic memories by repeatedly exposing you to the memory while providing bilateral stimulation, which can include eye movements, tapping, or auditory tones.


During an EMDR session, your therapist will guide you through the desensitization phase by having them focus on a specific traumatic memory while following a specific pattern of back-and-forth eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation. This process is believed to replicate the brain's natural processing of memories during the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep.

The gradual desensitization process will help you cope with the traumatic memory and its associated emotions by reducing its emotional impact. This allows will allow you to start processing the memory without becoming overwhelmed.


In the desensitization phase of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, you will be guided to focus on a specific traumatic memory while receiving bilateral stimulation. This can involve a series of back-and-forth eye movements, tapping, or auditory tones, depending on your preference. The purpose of this phase is to gradually reduce the emotional intensity of the traumatic memory, allowing you to process it in a more adaptive way. While the precise mechanisms of how this works are not fully understood, research suggests that the bilateral stimulation may disrupt the neural networks associated with the traumatic memory, engage both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously, and induce a state of relaxation, all of which can help reduce the emotional distress.


The mechanisms by which desensitization works in EMDR therapy include:

  1. Memory Reconsolidation: The bilateral stimulation may help to disrupt the neural networks that are associated with the traumatic memory, allowing for the memory to be reconsolidated in a less emotionally charged way.

  2. Dual Attention: The eye movements or other types of bilateral stimulation may help you to engage both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously, which can help to reduce the intensity of the emotions associated with the traumatic memory.

  3. Relaxation: Bilateral stimulation may help to induce a state of relaxation, which can help to reduce the emotional distress associated with the traumatic memory.


Desensitization is just one of the phases of EMDR therapy. After the desensitization phase, your therapist will work with you to reprocess the memory and integrate positive beliefs or emotions. This will help you to see the memory in a more positive light and reduces the likelihood of future distress related to the memory.


Unlocking Trauma's Grip: The Power of Reprocessing in EMDR Therapy


During an EMDR session, your therapist will help you to gradually become desensitized to the traumatic memory through bilateral stimulation, as described in the desensitization phase of EMDR therapy. Once you have become desensitized to the memory, your therapist will work with you to reprocess the memory and integrate positive beliefs or emotions.


This may involve asking you to think about the traumatic memory from a different perspective, or to imagine a positive outcome to the situation. Your therapist may also ask you to think about ways in which the traumatic experience has helped you grow or learn, or to identify positive qualities or strengths you possess.


The goal of the reprocessing phase is to help you to see the traumatic memory in a more positive light, and to reduce the likelihood of future distress related to the memory. By reprocessing the memory in a more adaptive way, you are better able to integrate the memory into their life story and move forward in a healthier way.


EMDR Therapy for Overcoming Trauma: Is it Right for You

If you have experienced trauma or are struggling with symptoms of anxiety, depression, or PTSD, EMDR therapy may be a helpful treatment option for you. Here are some signs that EMDR therapy might be worth exploring:

  1. You have experienced a traumatic event: If you have experienced a traumatic event, such as physical or sexual assault, a car accident, or a natural disaster, and are experiencing symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, or anxiety, EMDR therapy may be a helpful treatment option.

  2. You are struggling with anxiety or depression: EMDR therapy has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety and depression, even in cases where traditional talk therapy and medication have not been effective.

  3. You have tried other therapies that haven't worked: If you have tried other forms of therapy without seeing the results you hoped for, EMDR therapy may be worth exploring. It is a relatively short-term treatment that can produce significant results in a relatively short amount of time.

  4. You are interested in a therapy that is evidence-based: EMDR therapy is a well-established and evidence-based treatment for trauma and other mental health conditions. If you are looking for a therapy that has been rigorously researched and proven to be effective, EMDR therapy may be a good option for you.

Ultimately, the decision to try EMDR therapy is a personal one. It is important to talk to a mental health professional about your options and determine whether EMDR therapy is the right choice for you.


Are You Ready to Transform Your Trauma with EMDR?

If you are feeling overwhelmed or stuck because of past trauma, anxiety, or depression Aligned Minds Counseling and Therapy understands how hard it can be to navigate these challenges on your own. We want to help!


Our therapists have a soft spot for those who have experienced trauma and we offer a free consultation so you can come in to talk to our therapists in person to see if EMDR therapy is right for you. We're conveniently located in the beautiful Strathearn neighborhood in Edmonton, just a few minutes away from downtown and Whyte Ave.


Give us a call today and let us help you get started.


You deserve to be happy! You deserve therapy!

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