Compassionate, Evidence-Based Therapy for Children, Adolescents and Adults
Laura Petersen, M.S.W., L.C.S.W.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
EMDRIA Certified EMDR Therapist
901 S. Rogers Street, Suite 202
Bloomington, IN 47403
Close to Bloomington Hospital, Hopscotch Coffee and Sweetgrass Restaurant
Therapy, Counseling and EMDR for Bloomington, Indiana University and surrounding communities.
About Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)
What is EMDR?
EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing is an evidenced-based psychotherapy that helps people heal from the impact of adverse life experiences, develop better approaches to their current lives and learn skills to help them in the future. It does so by addressing memory networks that drive current problems, as opposed to analyzing or interpreting them. It is considered an evidence-based practice by the American Psychiatric Association, the Department of Veterans Affairs, SAMHSA, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and the World Health Organization.
When we experience adverse events, whether small or large, we may be negatively impacted if the events haven't been adequately processed. As a result, we may continue to live our lives based on the unprocessed memories and associated negative beliefs, emotions, images, and body sensations that are stored in our bodies. In EMDR, the word “process” does not mean to “talk through”. It means to establish a learning state conducive to “digesting” memories that are causing problems. This results in putting the parts (emotions, body sensations, beliefs and images) "to rest" in the appropriate part of your brain. As a result, the useful parts of the experience can be left to guide you in the future.
What is Meant by Beliefs, Emotions, Images and Body Sensations?
- Beliefs are what we hold to be "true" and may reference beliefs about personal responsibility ( adequacy, competency, likability, self worth, etc.), safety, vulnerability, power, control and choices.
- Emotions refer to feelings we have when recalling past events, dealing with current situations and imagining the future. Examples of negative emotions include sadness, terror, fear, guilt, shame and anger. Examples of positive emotions include joy, pride, confidence and love.
- Images refers to the mental picture we have when recalling events or imagining future events. Images may be distressing or positive.
- Body sensations refer to the physical feelings we have, whether negative or positive. Examples of negative body sensations may include tension, breathlessness, rapid heart beat, digestive distress and physical pain, Examples of positive body sensations may include feelings of relaxation and overall well-being.
What is a Typical EMDR Processing Session Like?
The clinician asks the client to bring up the memory and predominant, negative belief the client is having about themselves as they think of it. The clinician also asks the client to notice the emotions and body sensations they are experiencing at the time. This is usually accomplished in a few minutes. Then, the clinician engages the client in bilateral stimulation (BLS) either with eye movements, audio tones or tactile methods. For example, the client may watch the clinician's fingers or a light move back and forth, listen to a tone that moves from left to right or hold pulsars that alternate from left to right. During this time, the client may remember other, associated events, experience new ideas and thoughts and experience changing emotions and physical sensations. Everyone processes differently. Images associated with the memory begin to transform and negative emotions and body sensations dissipate. The clinician guides this process until there is no change and the event no longer feels disturbing to the client.
Once that takes place, the clinician asks the client to hold the alternate, positive belief with the original memory and then uses more BLS for several thirty second increments. This fosters the strengthening of the adaptive, positive belief. The original, negative belief about oneself that is associated with the memory evolves into a more adaptive one. After this occurs, the therapist asks the client to scan their body for any distressing body sensations. If any arise, the client is asked again to focus on the original memory, and the process is resumed until it resolves.
Resolution means (1) the client rates the subjective distress associated with the original incident as “0” (no longer disturbing), (2) the client reports to fully believe the desired, positive (adaptive) belief about themselves when recalling the event and (3) the client reports no disturbing body sensations when recalling the original event.
What are Some Ways EMDR is Useful?
Resolution of Single, Traumatic Events:
An example of a single, traumatic events may include being involved in a car accident. Such an event may leave you with haunting images, insomnia, nightmares, panic symptoms, feeling on-guard and feelings of guilt. You may blame yourself for the accident. You may believe, for example, that “I should have known”. Even though you may know intellectually that you couldn't possibly have predicted what would happen the day when you chose to take a particular route, on another level you believe somehow you should have driven another way. After successful reprocessing, distressing images, emotions, and body sensations will diminish, and the belief you have about yourself in reference to the memory will become more adaptive. For example,if your negative belief about yourself associated with the event is "I should have known", it will be replaced with something more adaptive, like, “I did the best I could”.
Anxiety about social situations, performance, public speaking and other circumstances may be successfully helped with EMDR.
Negative Beliefs about Yourself that Drive Your Current Behavior:
Examples include “I'm unlovable”, “I'm vulnerable”, “I'm bad”, “I'm inadequate”, etc. Humans operate out of their belief systems (both positive and negative). Sometimes, it is useful to design a treatment plan around core, negative beliefs that drive your current behavior.
Sadly, many people experience long periods of adverse events that range from things like childhood abuse and neglect to the impact of war. When this is the case, EMDR can be planned to address both core, negative beliefs as well as alleviate the predominant, distressing symptoms of significant, traumatic events. Such a plan may be arranged in "clusters" or "themes"; it is not necessary to reprocess each and every negative life event.
Chronic Pain and Tension Associated with Trauma:
Sometimes, when accidents or illnesses are traumatic, pain and disturbing body sensations remains long afterward if the event isn't sufficiently processed at the time. The body reacts by tensing and feeling pain, even when there is no physical reason for it. When this is the case, EMDR can help alleviate the impact of the original event, help you manage current triggers that increase discomfort and pain and assist you with managing it in the future.
How Long Does it Take?
This depends on many factors including the complexity of your situation, your goals and your readiness to begin. Often, single incidents can be reprocessed in less than five sessions, while more complex issues, including those based in childhood will likely take longer.
Will I Start EMDR the First Session?
No, there is careful planning and preparation that we do first. Part of the planning is to help you develop self-soothing skills and ensure that you have sufficient resources in place to ensure your success.
What are Some of the Advantages of EMDR Over Other Therapies?
Some of the main advantages include (1) not having to talk in detail about painful events, (2) not engaging in direct challenging of beliefs, (3) not having to experience extended exposure to difficult events and (4) not having to think about the issue between sessions or do “homework”. Many of the clients I have worked with have remarked that EMDR has fostered a much more profound relief and transformation than other types of therapies they have tried.
Do Children Benefit from EMDR?
Yes, children can benefit from EMDR, and often do so more rapidly than adults. Children benefit from integrating EMDR with play and drawing techniques.
How Can I learn More about EMDR?
Please refer to the list of available resources below:
I look forward to speaking with you!