8700 Manchaca Road, Suite 306, Austin, TX 78748

EMDR Therapy

Senior African American man

What is EMDR Therapy?

Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., developed EMDR therapy in 1987. While out taking a walk one day, Dr. Shapiro (then a graduate student in college) noticed that disturbing thoughts that came to mind began to dissipate after a period of time. Curious about this, she paid closer attention to what was happening and discovered that as she focused on the disturbing thoughts her eyes began to move spontaneously back and forth. After her eyes moved for a period of time the disturbing thoughts disappeared. When she consciously brought the once-disturbing thoughts back to mind, they had lost their negative impact.

Wanting to test this process more, Dr. Shapiro brought other difficult thoughts and memories to mind and then consciously moved her eyes back and forth to see if this would have the same desensitizing effect; it did on both the past and current memories. Wanting to make sure this wasn’t just something from her imagination, Dr. Shapiro asked friends to do the same thing and talked them through the process. They noticed the same effect from moving their eyes. When some friends had difficulty keeping the eye movement process going, she asked them to keep their heads still and allow their eyes to follow her fingers back and forth. Again, the same desensitization effect occurred.

From this very unlikely beginning, both Dr. Shapiro and others began scientific research utilizing this process to address the specific difficulties that arise from traumatic events. Research results continued to demonstrate that the action of moving the eyes helped to desensitize the troubling memories and helped people view the event differently. Dr. Shapiro became convinced that, in addition to experiencing desensitization, the mind was “reprocessing” the memory of the event.

How Does EMDR Therapy Work?

After 25 years of practice and study, and decades of research on the brain itself, we are still not sure exactly how EMDR works. The information we do have is based on what clients report and what is observed about clients who received EMDR therapy. From research on the brain, we do know that stress hormones related to fear and pain impact memories. When a traumatic event occurs, hormones “lock” sensations associated with the event (sights, sounds, smells and tactile sensations) in a lower, more reactive part of the brain: the part that deals with survival instinct. Because the memory of the event stays in this reactive region, the memory cannot be processed into the more cognitive, reasoning, thinking part of the brain. Thus, when you experience “triggers” (things that remind you of the event), you may spontaneously react with strong anxiety, fear, anger and bodily reactions related to the trauma.

EMDR targets memories, thoughts, emotions and sensations related to the traumatic event so that the brain can process these events out of the reactive brain. We believe that guiding one’s eye movements while focusing on the memory helps to jump-start this reprocessing. Once these memories are reprocessed, you are able to see the event as occurring in the past and as something that no longer has control over you.

What Is Involved in an EMDR Session?

This is where the therapist’s experience and training in EMDR and trauma counseling comes into play. Preparing for the actual EMDR session itself involves more that just picturing the event and moving your eyes. You will need a therapist to guide you, as you may recall additional details or other related events during the EMDR session.

Processing the memory of traumatic events can be a distressing experience for some clients, as these memories are often painful. However, I will teach you skills and methods for dealing with unexpected memories and negative emotions ahead of time so that you’ll be prepared to successfully move through them.

Most often, EMDR therapy progresses through eight phases of preparation and treatment. The first two phases include listening to you speak about the history of your concerns, formulating a theory as to whether your experience is appropriate for EMDR therapy, and informing you about the treatment process. This includes discussing the possibility of experiencing distressing emotions and new memories as mentioned above.

Phases three and four begin with choosing the targets for treatment (including negative thoughts, difficult emotions, false beliefs and the location of where the tension of the memory is stored in your body). Following a thorough assessment of these factors, desensitization and reprocessing begins. Depending on the memory, its traumatic nature and how much is involved, phase four can take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes or longer.

Following desensitization and reprocessing of the memory, EMDR progresses to another level. The therapy will then move toward helping you associate new, more positive and adaptive thoughts and beliefs with the memories. Adapting and moving on from trauma means that as you remember the event you really begin to believe statements like “It wasn’t my fault,” “I did the best I could,” or “I’m safe now.”

The last phases include double checking what was done during the therapy, ensuring the safety and appropriateness of closing out the current session, and reevaluating the progress and what needs to be done in the following session. Four to eight sessions are often required to ensure that everything associated with a traumatic memory is properly and completely processed.

Every person and situation is different. Your personal experience involves specific details about what happened, your personal style of managing stress and your background. Because of this, you may have additional questions about your specific situation. Please consider using the email link below or call me at (512) 468-2365 to ask a couple questions so that you feel comfortable and safe in choosing me for EMDR therapy.

Who’s A Good Candidate For EMDR?

EMDR is powerful and evidence-based and is one of the accepted and recommended therapies for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Research on EMDR has found that this integrated psychotherapy approach has also been helpful for:

  • Combat veterans
  • Victims of rape and sexual assault
  • Trauma related to physical and sexual abuse
  • Phobias and panic disorder
  • Crime victims
  • Police officers involved in shootings or other stressful situations
  • Phantom-limb pain
  • People suffering from excessive, prolonged grief
  • Addiction
  • Performance anxiety
  • Adult ADHD
  • Many other concerns

Choosing to utilize EMDR can be an important decision in your recovery and future. If you schedule an appointment with me you will find caring and compassionate treatment that is tailored specifically to you. I invite you to use the links on this website to schedule an appointment, send a question via email or call me at (512) 468-2365 for a free 15-minute consultation.

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8700 Manchaca Road, Suite 306, Austin  78748

512-468-2365

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