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How EMDR Helps Process Trauma

Thursday, June 15th 2023 10:00am 5 min read
Dr. Jessica Peatross dr.jess.md @drjessmd

Hospitalist & top functional MD who gets to the root cause. Stealth infection & environmental toxicity keynote speaker.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy that has been shown to be effective in treating various mental health conditions, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Shapiro, 2018). The therapy involves focusing on a traumatic memory while simultaneously engaging in a task that stimulates bilateral brain activity, such as following a therapist’s hand movements or listening to alternating sounds in each ear. This dual attention stimulation is thought to help desensitize the emotional charge associated with the traumatic memory, which can allow the individual to reprocess the memory in a more adaptive way.

Dual attention stimulation: EMDR utilizes dual attention stimulation to help reduce the emotional charge associated with traumatic memories. During this process, the therapist guides the individual to focus on the traumatic memory while simultaneously engaging in a task that stimulates bilateral brain activity, such as following a therapist’s hand movements or listening to alternating sounds in each ear. This approach is thought to facilitate the processing of the traumatic memory by activating different regions of the brain that are involved in emotional and cognitive processing (van den Hout & Engelhard, 2012). The bilateral stimulation is thought to facilitate the integration of the traumatic memory into a more adaptive narrative, which can help reduce the intensity of emotions associated with the memory.

Reprocessing: Reprocessing is a key component of EMDR therapy, and it involves facilitating the integration of the traumatic memory into the individual’s past experiences. Through the use of dual attention stimulation, the individual is guided to process the traumatic memory in a way that allows them to integrate the experience into their past and move forward with reduced emotional distress (Shapiro, 2018). Reprocessing involves a series of stages, including identifying the target memory, assessing the level of distress associated with the memory, and identifying negative beliefs and emotions that are associated with the memory. The individual is then guided through a series of bilateral stimulation exercises while simultaneously focusing on the target memory, which can facilitate the reprocessing of the memory in a more adaptive way.

Associative processing: EMDR therapy is thought to facilitate associative processing by helping the individual make new connections between the traumatic memory and other relevant life experiences. This approach can allow for a more comprehensive understanding of the trauma, and can help to reduce the intensity of emotions associated with the memory (Hase et al., 2008). By processing the traumatic memory in a way that is integrated with other life experiences, the individual can begin to develop a more cohesive sense of self, which can facilitate healing and recovery.

Adaptive information processing: The goal of EMDR therapy is to facilitate adaptive information processing by helping the brain to effectively process and integrate traumatic memories and related emotions. Adaptive information processing refers to the ability of the brain to integrate new information into existing cognitive structures, which can lead to more adaptive behaviors and emotional responses (Shapiro, 2018). By facilitating the processing of traumatic memories in a more adaptive way, EMDR therapy can help to reduce the intensity of emotions associated with the memory and promote healing and recovery.

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