EMDR Therapy

We all get stuck. We all get triggered. We all have blind spots. And most of us would like to do better.

Talk therapy is often the avenue we seek first. We seek the assistance of a professional and talk through what ails us. Simply through empathic listening, through the telling of our story, and if we’re lucky being truly seen, transformation happens. Being offered resources to help us cope with challenging situations further bolsters our mental well-being. Having tools in our back pocket and learning techniques for communication that we never learnt in childhood takes great strides in fostering mental well-being as well.

For many people talk therapy is more than sufficient to course correct and find the peace they are seeking.

But what happens when it’s not? What happens when our traumas, patterns, fears, experiences are so deeply rooted that talking (literally working through our intellect via the frontal cortex) is not sufficient to transform them?

Enter EMDR.

EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It is a therapeutic technique that helps us access memories and patterns stored in the limbic or reptilian part of our brain in order to desensitize the hold they have on us, converting these experiences into memories that no longer negatively impact our current experience. The limbic part of the brain is where we store emotional memories; this part of the brain responds to inputs by comparing them to our memory bank and determining whether or not they are safe. If safe, our parasympathetic nervous system engages and we feel relaxed. If deemed unsafe, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in with fight, flight or freeze and we are instantly in a highly reactive state.

A simple example would be if you were bitten by a snake when you were younger and come across a rope or a hose that resembles a snake, instantly you feel adrenaline surge, you scream and jump away in fright. This is your limbic brain responding. It is only later that your frontal cortex kicks in to say, oh it’s just a rope, and we can relax.

EMDR aims to hone in on the memory of being bitten by a snake and desensitizing your limbic brain’s response to it, such that you remember you were bitten, but there is no longer a trigger when you see a rope, a hose, or even a snake.

Of course this is a simple example, but the principle applies to any traumatic memory or “impactful experience” that is still influencing our current behaviour. For example, you nearly drowned at the age of 5 and to this day never learned to swim and are afraid of the water. Or you were sexually abused at the age of 9 and to this day are distrustful in intimate relationships. Or you were in a car accident 2 years ago and feel anxious every time you drive on the highway. Or you were bullied in elementary school and your self-confidence is still rocky. EMDR can work on any impactful or traumatic experience to liberate us to live more freely in the present without carrying around the burden of the past.

How does this happen, you might ask? There are several theories as to how EMDR works; I understand it best as mimicking REM sleep (but awake) and while holding something consciously in your mind. When we are in REM sleep our eyes dart back and forth rapidly and in so doing process information, pass it between the brain hemispheres and store memories. In EMDR, we mimic this bilateral movement while holding a memory along with its associated negative belief about ourselves and the associated emotions and body sensations. While trying to get the frontal cortex out of the way (ie not intellectualizing the process), we then let the brain sort through this memory. When we connect with the memory, its charge is often initially high, but with time, realizations start to emerge and the disturbance associated with the memory decreases. Once we reduce the disturbance to near neutral we then connect the memory with a positive cognition about ourselves (what we’d rather believe as we bring up the memory).

Every day, I am amazed at the realizations and transformations I see. And often my patients are shocked at what emerges, how memories start to soften and how their life experience transforms as a result.

Although originally limited to eye movements, we have since observed that any type of bilateral stimulation creates the same effect, be it running, walking, drumming, tapping, bilateral pulsers, etc. In my office I most commonly use eye movements, bilateral tapping and pulsers.

In summary, here is a brief synopsis of the process:

  1. History taking: we discuss what brings you in, the process of EMDR and how to tailor the therapy to your unique experiences
  2. Preparation: laying the foundation for emotional safety
  3. Assessment: honing in on the themes, memory networks and most impactful experiences
  4. Desensitization: using bilateral stimulation to diminish emotional responses to memories
  5. Installation: reinforcing positive cognitions linked to the memory
  6. Body scan: ensuring the body is no longer holding emotional charge
  7. Closure: concluding each session with a return to balance
  8. Re-evaluation: checking in on memories already processed to ensure they remain neutralized

 

FAQs:

What happens if I’m not sure what my impactful memories are?

Not to worry, we will uncover them.

How many sessions will I need?

This all depends on how much we have to reprocess! Sometimes we get through a memory in one session and sometimes a single event can take multiple sessions to complete. Sometimes we have one thing to work on and other times we have many memories and events to process. Additionally, different people will move at different paces as they reprocess. I often book 4 sessions to start and on average do 4-10 sessions with my patients.

How much does each session cost?

Each session is currently (June 2024) priced at $199. The fee is billable to insurance if you have Naturopathic Coverage.

Do I have to relive traumatic experiences in order to have success?

Unlike talk therapy, we do not need to retell the details of a traumatic event; however, it is important to bring up the memory, identify the negative belief about yourself that linked to it, the emotions felt and the body sensations as you bring up the memory. Throughout the reprocessing you can share what’s coming up with me, but verbally expressing everything you are processing is not necessary.

I’m scared. What if difficult things come up or memories I don’t want to let go of?

It’s common to feel nervous when starting something new, especially when it requires a degree of vulnerability. There is always time to talk through your fears and apprehensions in order to feel safe and prepared to start the process. Sometimes memories come up that are hard to let go of, they may have fundamentally shaped who we are, we may be afraid of the void created by letting go, or a memory may be associated with someone who is no longer with us, and by “letting go” we are forgetting them. We work on courage and reframing to get through these. The idea is not to forget, but simply to put down the pain that we carry that is spilling over into our present moments.

Dr. Sarah Roth

Dr. Sarah Roth

Dr. Sarah Roth is a Naturopathic Doctor at Marda Loop Naturopathic and Wellness Clinic in Calgary, Alberta. 📅 Book Your Appointment With Dr. Roth 📞Call Us

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