Crossroads Counselor Christina Westbrook uses a therapy called EMDR when she works with clients, which helps people heal from emotional distress due to disturbing life experiences. We often assume that particularly severe emotional pain must require a long time to heal. EMDR therapy, however, reveals that the mind can actually heal from trauma much as the body heals following physical trauma.
If we experience pain in our body due to a cut, our body gets to work to repair and close the open wound. If a foreign object irritates the wound, it continues to fester and causes us pain. But once the object is removed, healing is able to occur. Much like our body naturally moves to healing, our brain naturally moves to healing as well. If there is a mental imbalance or block due to a traumatic event, the emotional wound continues to fester, causing suffering. But once the block is removed, healing can occur. EMDR helps people activate natural healing processes through therapy sessions. In this blog, Christina shares her experience and thoughts about EMDR through interview questions and answers.
What is EMDR?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It uses bilateral stimulation in the form of rapid eye movements, to help the brain process or integrate painful memories. Rapid eye movements occur naturally for all of us when we are in REM sleep. This is when we dream, and when our brains take the information from the day and decides what is helpful, and what can be “let go”.
However, when experiences are “too much” for us to handle, our Central Nervous System is overwhelmed, and this information does not get integrated properly. When information is not integrated, we are unable to move past it, accept it, or attach meaning to it. Therefore, we may often feel as if there is no resolution, or that we will never be able to get past a difficult experience.
In EMDR, clients are asked to “pull up” or “notice” this experience, along with emotions associated with it, while they follow the clinicians moving fingers (creating rapid eye movements). This form of bilateral stimulation activates areas of the brain that allow us to adequately reprocess this “stuck” information, and integrate it appropriately.
EMDR was developed by Psychologist Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s. Since that time, EMDR has been the subject of numerous research studies, and has been proven highly effective for the treatment of multiple mental health issues.
How does it work?
I use EMDR as part of a holistic trauma therapy approach. I tell all my clients that while it can be very helpful to recognize and acknowledge difficult experiences in our past, this knowledge does not necessarily bring healing. I use EMDR to help my clients fully integrate these painful memories, and decrease the emotional reactivity to these memories as well. This does not erase the memory, or take away all feeling associated with the memory, however, it greatly diminishes the emotional reactivity to it, and helps clients to accept the memory as part of their past. Basically, EMDR helps clients to see that what has happened to them as being in the past, and not continuing to happen to them in the present.
Is EMDR an effective treatment?
I believe EMDR to be highly effective. I have seen clients go from distraught to calm and relaxed in one session. I have seen clients be able to go from “I will never get over this”, to “It’s over now, and it doesn’t define me anymore” with just a few sessions. What is even more amazing, is that it also decreases the physical reactions associated with the painful memories as well! I am not saying that EMDR is a “cure all”, but it is, in my opinion, a highly effective tool for moving past painful experiences.
What are your thoughts about it from a Christian perspective?
From a Christian perspective, I have seen EMDR be a powerful tool in helping individuals overcome spiritual and relational blocks. I have had many Christian clients say they are “stuck” in negative behavior or thought patterns, or that even though they try and forgive someone for a past hurt, they feel as if it is still happening to them now. Although the idea of EMDR may seem a little “out there” to many, it is strongly based in neuroscience. EMDR is not hypnosis, or putting clients in a trance. It is merely a tool to help our brains access and integrate painful memories so that we can move forward in the process of healing.
What makes a person a candidate for EMDR therapy?
EMDR can be used with basically anyone. Studies have demonstrated its efficacy in helping with multiple mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and in particular, PTSD. It can be used to work through experiences ranging from mildly upsetting, to the most difficult experiences of life.
If you’re interested in learning more about EMDR for yourself or a loved one, simply contact us here or give us a call at 225-341-4147.