EMDR in Therapy
When the brain’s processing system fails
Humans seem to have an information processing system in their brains tasked with processing stressful experiences to prevent an adverse effect on their mental health. When people have stressful or unpleasant experiences, they often deal with them intensively by talking or dreaming about them frequently. This continues until the experience no longer disturbs the individual, who thus enters a state of adaptation. Together with the appropriate feelings, these experiences are stored in the brain so that we can access them at a later point. The inappropriate feelings that arise in such events, the false beliefs we have about ourselves and the associated physical emotions are dropped and sorted out in this form of processing.
However, the processing system can fail to provide this service, particularly in traumatic and stressful situations. Everything that people feel, smell, hear or see in such terrible moments is stored in their memories, mostly in a disordered jumble. These perceptions are stored without being processed, probably using somatic markers, and can later be reactivated by a slight trigger. Even years after the traumatic experience, people can be taken back to the feelings experienced at that traumatic moment in the past. This kind of reliving is clearly different from merely remembering and can be extremely distressing.
Emotional body markers are deleted and what is experienced is reintegrated
An EMDR intervention moves what is stored in the body’s memory with emotional somatic markers directly to the brain in order to facilitate the processing of traumatic experiences and their healthy integration into our memory system. At the same time, the information processing system is activated and stimulated.
In most cases, EMDR stimulates this system with rapid eye movement. The background to this is the observation that our nightly sleep cycle usually includes at least one or two phases characterized by rapid eye movements, what is known as REM sleep. Research has shown that REM sleep is particularly important for processing emotionally and mentally disturbing material.
Previous experience has shown that numerous illnesses that are the result of traumatic events are indications for treatment with EMDR. This applies to single traumatic events in adulthood such as accidents or being a victim of violence. But even with complex trauma disorders such as the trauma resulting from maltreatment in childhood or PTSD among war veterans, EMDR can often improve clients’ emotional experience.