Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
Have you ever watched someone (or even your cat or dog) sleep, and noticed their eyes darting back and forth under their closed eyelids? This is called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the part of the sleep cycle when we are dreaming. Sleep scientists tell us that REM sleep is important for memory consolidation and helping us process events that we experienced during the day.
Researchers believe it is likely that this process is activated when EMDR is used to help people process trauma by using eye movements.
The difference is that during EMDR, we do the eye movements while we are awake and conscious instead of during sleep. This technique is commonly referred to as bilateral stimulation. Sometimes, instead of eye movements, other forms of bilateral stimulation are used, such as tapping gently on one’s knees with the hands, using the feet to tap on the floor, or even listening to a recording that moves back and forth from the left to right ear.
Research has shown that when these kinds of bilateral stimulation are used in EMDR therapy, they can help integrate communication between our left and right brain. This allows us to use the brain’s capacity to problem solve and process traumatic experiences by decreasing the emotional charge from the experience, while updating the brain with new adaptive information. For instance, after being assaulted or abused, people tend to have the belief that they are damaged, unlovable, or worthless.
EMDR can help the brain find a more adaptive belief, such as: “I am OK just as I am”, or “I can accept myself”.
By using a strength-based approach that updates old negative beliefs with more adaptive beliefs, a person is able to move forward through a traumatic experience and not feel stuck in the past, or in repetitive patterns of behavior.
EMDR can also be used to manage anxiety and depression, overcome addictions, work through grief and loss, enhance performance, build self-esteem, etc.