What is EMDR?

“I think about suicide,” I said to Dr. A as she asked me what I think about when February rolls around, “and why it is that I can’t seem to get it done.” She pauses and then tells me that perhaps there’s an element of PTSD related to my suicide attempt seven years ago and that’s why I keep having thoughts of suicide every time February rolls around. Then, she tells me that I should go get EMDR. “What in the world is EMDR,” I think to myself, as she makes a call to a therapist who specializes in this therapy.

So, what is EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR is a relatively new and contentious clinical treatment that has been scientifically evaluated predominantly with trauma survivors and persons stricken with anxiety.  The premise of EMDR is that traumatic, panic, and anxiety experiences are processed differently by the brain than pleasant or neutral experiences.  EMDR maintains that the amygdala (part of the temporal lobe responsible for moderating emotions) provisionally shuts down the hippocampus (complex region in the temporal lobe responsible for long-term memories) resulting in a heightened reaction to the specific event.  Theoretically the memory of the disturbing experience is trapped beyond the domain of usual brain-processing abilities.  EMDR grants the patient admission to the experience so that he/she can convert it into a tolerable or neutral memory.  The neuro-physiological concept behind EMDR is that the hippocampus is not entirely shut down by the emotions evoked from the induced experience.  Therefore, the patient is able to endure the procedure.  Distraction by bilateral stimulation catalyzes rapid eye movements (REM) similar to that produced during sleep.   In theory the REM induced in an EMDR session trigger an accelerated processing system in which the patient is able to rapidly absolve upsetting experiences creating an adaptive learning experience.  In simpler terms, the patient learns to draw out what is necessary and useful from the upsetting incident. (Christie Russo, Vanderbilt University)

For more info, the EMDR Institute page is a very good resource.

Apparently, it’s been determined to be an effective treatment for trauma. If timing works out, I may be getting this EMDR sometime next week. We’ll see how it goes….


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