Moving Past Trauma with EMDR

Moving Forward with Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing

Leading the way in integrative care, the clinical team at Helix Healthcare Group includes more certified Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing Technique (EMDR) practitioners than any wellness centre in Canada. Why make this investment in EMDR? A plethora of research confirms that EMDR is one of the fastest, most effective ways to reprocess traumatic events, rewire faulty neural circuits, and re-integrate the memories so that they no longer cause pain and suffering.

What is trauma?

At its root, trauma occurs when the brain is overwhelmed by fear. In order to cope, the brain often dissociates the experience from the emotions it evokes. Imagine this:

You are running late to work. You are driving pretty fast down the highway—maybe a little over the speed limit, but nothing serious. Then all of a sudden, a little dog appears in a flash—right under your tire. There is no way the dog could have survived, and you are on a busy highway with no way to safely pull over. Deciding there is little you can do, you continue to drive to work as though nothing happened. When you arrive at work, you are frazzled and tense, but you go on with your day.

As is the case with many traumatic experiences, there is little time to process the event at the time it occurs. And even if there were time, it may take the help of a mental health practitioner to know exactly how to process it. Instead, traumatic memories are often shoved to the back of the mind, but their effects, triggered by seemingly benign daily occurrences, play on a loop. For instance, after hitting the dog, you might sweat or blush every time you see a little dog. You might avoid parks. Whereas once dogs calmed you, they are now sources of stress. Your brain has split the negative emotion from the unprocessed experience, and it dogs you day in and day out (pun intended).

Imagine a lifetime full of these little-unprocessed traumas. Without professional help, it can be hard to function.

Have I really experienced trauma?

One of EMDR’s first large-scale uses came in an effort to help Vietnam Veterans combat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms resulting from brutal memories of the war. But even if you have never served in a war, you may have PTSD-like symptoms. New research shows that less dramatic and more subtle memories can cause PTSD symptoms.

A combination of genetics, intensity and length of exposure, and age at the time of exposure determines how well the brain processes the event. As an adult, you may not see an event from the perspective you saw it as a child, causing you to overlook key facets of childhood trauma that are weighing you down.

Can EMDR heal childhood trauma?

Unlike talk therapy, which uses the logical left brain hemisphere, EMDR involves the non-linear right hemisphere. That is, time is of no consequence; you can reprocess and re-integrate traumatic experiences no matter how long ago they occurred. Dr. Francis Shapiro, the creator of EMDR, reports helping an 80-year-old World War II survivor re-integrate traumas from the war—decades after the war.

Is EMDR effective?

Over twenty years of research has proven EMDR’s efficacy. In one study, over 90 percent of sexual assault victims achieved PTSD remission. In another study, participants receiving only three 90 minute sessions of EMDR showed decreases in anxiety and increases in positive thinking. EMDR heals psychological trauma quickly, allowing the brain to heal much like a bodily wound heals.

How does EMDR work?

A complete round of EMDR therapy is broken into eight phases. Before commencing the eye movement technique, the practitioner will collect a personal history, identify past traumas, and prepare the client for eye movement therapy. During the eye movement component, the client will focus on an image, negative thought, and body sensation while engaging in eye movement, taps, or tones. This continues until the targeted memory no longer elicits distress.

The idea that eye movement processes memories is actually derived from an innate bodily process: REM sleep. When you dream, you are in Rapid Eye Movement sleep (REM). During REM, the eyes move back and forth across the continuum of recently-collected memories, processing and integrating them into a vast network of memories. It is a fundamental survival mechanism, ensuring sound psychological health. But many Canadians do not get enough sleep (6.9 hours on average), stunting memory processing. And some memories may be too traumatic to be fully processed in REM. Today many researchers believe that EMDR works much like REM, bolstering psychological health.

Is EMDR right for you?

If you feel like you are stuck in the past, suffer from anxiety, depression, or addiction, and want to deeply heal, EMDR may be right for you. EMDR works directly with the nervous system to rewire maladaptive circuitry and establish new, healthy semantic links. With the greatest number of EMDR-certified practitioners of any wellness centre in Canada, Helix is ready to partner with you to achieve long-lasting well-being.

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