EMDR Therapy

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    What is EMDR

    EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. It is an advanced mind body therapy for healing PTSD, trauma, anxiety, unhealthy habits and a range of psychological issues. EMDR was developed by Francine Shapiro PhD in 1987 for the treatment of traumatic memories and PTSD. A key component of EMDR is bilateral stimulation which refers to the alternating stimulation of the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This is the crux of the EMDR model. Through rapid tactile, visual or auditory bilateral stimulation, it is proposed that the brain accesses and releases stored traumatic and stressful information. This type of information is not generally accessed with traditional talk therapy approaches. Talk based approaches don’t tend to reach the parts of the brain where trauma is stored. When we bring up unresolved and unconscious memories in EMDR we are able to process them from a more conscious and adaptive state of mind and body. The EMDR practitioner may use tactile sensors called tappers, a light machine, their hands or headphones for bilateral stimulation.

    How EMDR works

    Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) accesses deep centers of the brain and allows for the reprocessing, releasing and healing of negative experiences. The strategy itself follows a specific series of eight phases.

    EMDR 8 Phases

    Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) accesses deep centers of the brain and allows for the reprocessing, releasing and healing of negative experiences. The strategy itself follows a specific series of eight phases.


    History and treatment plan


    Preparation and resource skill development


    Assess and identify the distressing issue, negative beliefs and body sensations.


    Desensitization through bilateral stimulation


    Installation of a reparative positive belief


    Body scan





    As part of this process, the client focuses on a stressful or traumatic issue while experiencing bilateral stimulation. Eye movements were originally the main form of bilateral movement however tactile and auditory bilateral stimulation have been found to be equally effective. The client is guided to repeatedly reexperience the issue while being guided through the steps in the process. It has been likened to a form of exposure therapy given the repeated visualizing and felt sense reexperiencing of the traumatic incidents. These steps allow the therapist and the client to track the productivity throughout the session.

    Why EMDR works

    EMDR addresses trauma, unhealthy habits and distressing experiences at their root. To understand the root of trauma we need to explore what happens when we experience trauma and how trauma memories are stored.

    What happens when we experience trauma

    We experience trauma when the stress or fear of threat overwhelm our system and we are not able to consciously process everything that is happening. Our instincts take over and our nervous system goes into survival mode to help us deal with the situation. This is a process known as neuroception, where we assess risks and react via our primal instincts. This looks like the part of our nervous system that is capable of survival and takes a primary role and we either fight, flight, freeze, appease or collapse in response to what is happening. Our rational thinking brain takes a back seat to let our instinctual emotional brain take over. Once we experience an event as traumatic, our nervous system makes it difficult to get out. The part of our brain responsible for memory of details, time, space and basic facts becomes far less active and our sensory memory takes over. We can lose track of the details making it challenging to recall what happened after the fact. The traumatic experiences get stored at a sensory, visceral, and often nonverbal level in our implicit memory. We may experience this at more of an unconscious level making it difficult to fully process at a more cognitive or conscious level. These memories tend to get suspended or stuck in time leaving a residue of unresolved distressing energy. This puts a lot of stress on the mind-body system, is exhausting and inevitably is not sustainable. Healing as a result requires accessing the implicit memories that exist outside of our ability to verbalize and rationally process our thoughts about what happened. EMDR and other mind body therapies known to access implicit memory networks are vital to healing. They help move memories from an unconscious and unresolved state to a more conscious and adaptive state.

    The negative impact from trauma can lead to multiple mental and physical health conditions.

    • Anxiety

    • Depression

    • Insomnia

    • PTSD

    • Phobias

    • Panic Attacks

    • Isolation

    • Autoimmune Disorders

    • Digestive Disorders

    Learn how can we help you on your path of healing

    Trauma lives in our response not the event

    The essence of trauma lives in our response to an event vs. the actual event itself. This is why two different people can experience the same car accident, childhood dysfunction or other highly stressful event and one may feel traumatized while the other does not. A series of important factors may play a part in these different responses such as perception of the event itself, perception of available support, attachment history and general constitution.

    Signs that we are likely experiencing the effects of trauma

    • Disconnected

    • Powerless

    • Overwhelmed

    • Anxious

    • Vigilant

    • Numb

    • Shock

    • Edgy

    • Disoriented

    • Distrusting

    Developmental Trauma

    In addition to specific significant traumatic events, trauma also looks like a series of smaller chronic events, habits, and associations that cause overwhelming stress during childhood. This is what is known as developmental trauma. A primary component of developmental trauma includes the absence or ineffectiveness of a caregiver to help reduce the stress. This results in a disruption in basic attachment necessary for feeling a sense of safety and security that is critical to healthy brain and body development in childhood.

    Top Down vs Bottom Up Approach

    Many traditional therapies work from a top-down model where thoughts are used to change feelings, behaviors, and experiences. This model relies on the upper part of the brain (neocortex) which is also the newest part in our evolution, to manage and alter the inner and more primitive parts of the brain. As a result, the success of a top-down approach is contingent upon an individual’s ability to analyze, narrate, and verbally process their thoughts and feelings.

    The way trauma is experienced and stored is also a reason that talk therapy approaches are not as effective in treating it. Trauma lives in the response not the event, in the sensory experience not the details and analysis of events. Mind body approaches such as EMDR and Brainspotting follow the bottom-up model where the inner brain sends information and experiences up through the limbic system for release and into the neocortex for processing. This is why mind body therapies such as EMDR that access the deeper centers of the brain and body are essential for treating trauma.

    EMDR and REM Sleep

    Neuroscientists propose that the bilateral stimulation during EMDR has a therapeutic effect similar to REM sleep. During REM sleep brain mapping shows that the emotional centers of the brain are more active and it is proposed that during this time we are processing through stress and negative experiences. The alternating stimulation of the right and left brain hemispheres during EMDR while focusing on a stressful issue is thought to intentionally process, release and repair similar to REM sleep. EMDR is guided by the adaptive information processing model which proposes that traumatic experiences get stored or stuck in the brain, body and nervous system causing mental, emotional and physical imbalances and even pathology. Through the process of bilateral stimulation these incomplete trauma memories are processed in a productive and healing manner. Adaptive resolution may look like healing emotional distress, decrease in symptoms of PTSD, transformation of negative beliefs and regulation of nervous system activation and arousal.

    Contact us

    Phone/Fax: (619) 819-6841

    Our office is located in Carlsbad, CA 92009
    We also do nationwide sessions via Skype
    and FaceTime.

    We are offering a FREE 15 minute consultation

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