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EMDR Therapy

What is EMDR Therapy?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD often occurs after experiences such as military combat, physical assault, rape, car accidents or any traumatic experience.  This method of therapy helps individuals to cope with traumas or other symptoms they may face. 


EMDR is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing and processing of traumatic memories and other adverse life experience to bring these to an adaptive resolution. After successful treatment with EMDR therapy, affective distress is relieved, negative beliefs are reformulated, and physiological arousal is reduced.


EMDR Therapy For Panic Disorder

Panic attacks are the worst. It often feels like they come out of nowhere, and they completely hijack your body and mind. Eventually, you may feel as if your life revolves around trying to avoid them, and dreading the next one. What can you do to get out of this cycle? Together, mindfulness tools and EMDR therapy can help.


What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is the activation of your body’s fight or flight system. Your brain’s job is to keep you safe, not make you happy. So your brain is constantly on the lookout for dangers. When a danger is present, the fight or flight system prepares you to protect yourself by fighting or running away. When a danger is not actually present, we call the false alarm a panic attack. Sometimes it’s a reaction to stress, and sometimes it feels like it comes out of nowhere. Symptoms may include:


· Racing heart rate

· Shortness of breath

· Feeling of panic or impending doom

· Feeling of “going crazy” or losing control

· Sweating

· Tingling or numbness in hands, feet, face, or lips

· Feeling “foggy” or like the world is distant

· Feeling outside of your body

· Feeling of wanting to run or escape


Most panic attacks are brief, about 5-15 minutes, but they sometimes last longer. Many people feel as if they are having a heart attack. If that is the case, you should consult a doctor in order to rule out any kind of heart condition. Once you know that what you are dealing with is anxiety, we can use mindfulness tools and EMDR to help.


Reducing the Fear of Fear

We use mindfulness tools to help you learn to calm your mind when you start to notice the first signs of panic attacks. You might practice slow, deep breathing, while telling yourself things like, “It’s just a feeling. It’s uncomfortable, but not dangerous. It will end, it always has before. I can let it pass by like a wave. ” Read more about what to do during a panic attack here.


EMDR Therapy for Anxiety & Panic Attacks 

EMDR therapy can help reduce how often panic attacks are triggered in the first place. The first panic attack you have may be related to some sort of stress. After that, panic attacks may happen simply because a similar situation comes up. Whenever you have a scary experience (such as a panic attack), you brain bookmarks everything about the situation and stores a vivid memory of the place, the smell, the sounds, the people around you, etc. When a similar situation comes up later, your brain recognizes it and automatically activates your fight or flight system to protect you. Eventually, your brain may bookmark more and more situations as “dangerous,” until you live in fear and dread of a panic attack happening at any time.


With EMDR, we reverse this process. We go back to where the panic attacks began, and teach your brain that the situation is not dangerous, and that you can cope with it. This way we can curb the automatic fight or flight reactions your body is having. During EMDR, you focus on events that contributed to the panic attacks, and the therapist helps you connect the emotional part of your brain that feels afraid (the limbic system), with the logical part of your brain that knows you’re ok (the prefrontal cortex). We use EMDR to process through events in the following order:


· Background stressors to the first panic attack

· The first panic attack

· The worst panic attack

· The most recent panic attack

· Any childhood events that contributed to feeling unsafe

· Current triggers

· Uncomfortable body sensations associated with anxiety (e.g. rapid breathing, rapid heartrate)

· How you’d like to feel in the future


Together, we help you manage anxiety in the present while working to calm your brain so that panic attacks occur less often in the first place. Contact me so we can start a plan for you to conquer your fears and live your life to the fullest. (Dr. Kathryn Soule, PhD)

EMDR Virtual Therapy (Online EMDR)

The primary principles and phases of EMDR do not change when done online. It is essentially the same and potentially enhanced by the fact that those receiving treatment can utilize various home comforts during treatment.


EMDR uses grounding techniques to help the client feel safe during the process. Often with EMDR online, providers will spend more time focusing on these grounding techniques, or “resources,” since the provider is less able to support that process remotely.


Some providers have been administering EMDR online with success for years. The pandemic further highlighted the need for effective, online treatments. Thankfully, hundreds of providers adapted to administering EMDR as a remote-therapy and in telehealth settings. Unfortunately there has not yet been extensive research comparing the use of EMDR online versus in-person; however, pre-published data is promising.

Process of EMDR Therapy

During EMDR therapy the client attends to emotionally disturbing material in brief sequential doses while simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus. Therapist directed lateral eye movements are the most commonly used external stimulus but a variety of other stimuli including hand-tapping and audio stimulation are often used (Shapiro, 1991). Shapiro (1995, 2001) hypothesizes that EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing of the traumatic memory network, so that information processing is enhanced, with new associations forged between the traumatic memory and more adaptive memories or information.


These new associations are thought to result in complete information processing, new learning, elimination of emotional distress, and development of cognitive insights. EMDR therapy uses a three pronged protocol: (1) the past events that have laid the groundwork for dysfunction are processed, forging new associative links with adaptive information; (2) the current circumstances that elicit distress are targeted, and internal and external triggers are desensitized; (3) imaginal templates of future events are incorporated, to assist the client in acquiring the skills needed for adaptive functioning.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.  Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal.  EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma.  When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound.  If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes. 


EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes.  The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health.  If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.  Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR therapy training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes.

More than 30 positive controlled outcome studies have been done on EMDR therapy. 


Some of the studies show that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute sessions.  Another study, funded by the HMO Kaiser Permanente, found that 100% of the single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer were diagnosed with PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions. In another study, 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in 12 sessions. There has been so much research on EMDR therapy that it is now recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense.


Given the worldwide recognition as an effective treatment of trauma, you can easily see how EMDR therapy would be effective in treating the “everyday” memories that are the reason people have low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, and all the myriad problems that bring them in for therapy. Over 100,000 clinicians throughout the world use the therapy.  Millions of people have been treated successfully over the past 25 years.


EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment.  Eye movements (or other bilateral stimulation) are used during one part of the session.  After the clinician has determined which memory to target first, he asks the client to hold different aspects of that event or thought in mind and to use his eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision. 


As this happens, for reasons believed by a Harvard researcher to be connected with the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, internal associations arise and the clients begin to process the memory and disturbing feelings. In successful EMDR therapy, the meaning of painful events is transformed on an emotional level.  For instance, a rape victim shifts from feeling horror and self-disgust to holding the firm belief that, “I survived it and I am strong.”  Unlike talk therapy, the insights clients gain in EMDR therapy result not so much from clinician interpretation, but from the client’s own accelerated intellectual and emotional processes. 


The net effect is that clients conclude EMDR therapy feeling empowered by the very experiences that once debased them.  Their wounds have not just closed, they have transformed. As a natural outcome of the EMDR therapeutic process, the clients’ thoughts, feelings and behavior are all robust indicators of emotional health and resolution—all without speaking in detail or doing homework used in other therapies. (BY EMDR INSTITUTE, INC)

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