EMDR for Healing and Happiness

Adapted from article originally published in The Resiliency Center Newsletter in August 2009

About EMDR

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a complex and integrative approach to facilitating fundamental change and promoting resiliency. EMDR was first developed as an effective method to address trauma, anxiety, and phobias and posits that unprocessed traumatic memories are at the root of most dysfunctional behavior, mental illnesses, and current-day struggles (EMDRIA website, 2010). Since its creation, EMDR has been adapted for a variety of client concerns – with amazing results. At its core EMDR is a comprehensive approach to healing trauma.

Past Trauma and Present-Day Triggers

The theory of EMDR posits that all beliefs, no matter how irrational they may seem today, and all behaviors, regardless of whether or not they currently serve us, make sense when seen in the early context in which they were created.

slide-emdrTrauma, by definition, overwhelms a person’s ability to cope and includes a bodily felt experience of powerlessness. Traumas include everything from extreme events such as witnessing suicide or homicide or being the victim of rape or incest to experiences of childhood neglect, bullying, or chronic invalidation.  Traumatic experiences include an emotional response (fear, shock, hurt, sadness, etc.) that is often held in the body. Over time, these stored, unprocessed emotions can result in physical pain, interpersonal conflicts, and increased emotional reactivity to everyday situations.

While most experiences are processed and become a part of distant memory and the narrative storyline of one’s life, traumatic memories are stored in their original form – with the pictures, feelings, body sensations, and other sensory memories (sounds, sensations, smells) still intact.

When something happens in the present that reminds a person of an unprocessed memory, they may react with a much bigger reaction than the situation warrants. An example is the person who becomes enraged in traffic jams or feels devastated when something doesn’t go as planned.

Through EMDR, people process stored, unhealed traumatic memories so that they no longer get triggered in the present day. As a result, people are freer to act on their desires, to make clear decisions, and to respond to situations more effectively.

How EMDR is Effective

Neuroscience research has found that traumatic experiences often result in biological changes in one’s mind and body, and, therefore, words alone are often inadequate to process its profound impact.  The process of EMDR, in the context of a supportive therapeutic relationship, has been shown to repair the impact of trauma at the psychological, biological, and interpersonal levels.

slide-laughterThrough processing the traumatic memories that fuel current difficulties (such as depression, anxiety, relationship problems), EMDR addresses the source of problems in order to free clients from the weight of the past and empower them to live more joyful lives.

When the early traumatic experiences that gave rise to unhealthy thoughts and behaviors are processed and cleared through EMDR, people become free to think and act in positive, proactive ways. Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD, a psychiatrist and researcher who has led comparison studies with EMDR and other treatment approaches, concluded that EMDR is more effective than medication in reducing symptoms and has quicker, more generalized, and longer lasting results than either traditional therapy or medication.

EMDR was founded on the premise that all individuals possess an innate capacity for growth and healing. Individuals are viewed as experts in their own healing journey. Partnering with clients to heal trauma and activate their innate resiliency, counselors serve as supportive guides who allow clients to discover their own strengths.

How Elizabeth Venart Uses EMDR in her Practice

Elizabeth has worked successfully with people experiencing anxiety, those with recent or distant traumatic experiences, those at a career impasse who seek to make changes, and also those wishing to optimize their performance and create more joy in their lives. She has been honored to witness the courage of individuals to overcome adversity and transform their lives from surviving to truly thriving. She believes in an integrative approach to healing and often partners with practitioners from a variety of holistic modalities (massage, meditation, acupuncture, etc.) to accelerate and support clients’ healing process.

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