EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a therapeutic approach that has proven to be incredibly effective in helping individuals overcome traumatic events, both big T’s (major traumas) and little t’s (everyday stressors that accumulate over time). Trauma, whether stemming from a single significant event or a series of smaller, chronic stressors, can have an enduring effect on a person’s mental health and emotional well-being. EMDR offers a unique and powerful way to address these traumas by facilitating the brain’s natural ability to heal itself.
EMDR and LENS (Low Energy Neurofeedback System) can be a dynamic duo for addressing the emotional and neurological aspects of Trauma. EMDR helps process the traumatic memory and change negative beliefs about the event. LENS, on the other hand, can regulate the nervous system, reducing negative emotions, anxiety and stress responses, making it easier to integrate the positive changes achieved through EMDR. Together, they offer a comprehensive approach to healing both the thought patterns and body response after a traumatic incident.
How EMDR Can Be Applied To A Traumatic Event
In this blog, I am using the example of a minor car accident to illustrate how the EMDR protocol, in its unique way, may help challenge and change negative beliefs that arise after traumatic experiences.
Car accidents, even seemingly minor ones can trigger the nervous system into fight or flight when faced with reminders e.g. oncoming traffic, sitting in the car, putting on the brakes, or passing the scene of the accident, etc.
Experiencing a car accident can leave you with automatic negative beliefs that can be anxiety-prone – beliefs like “I’m not safe on the road,” “I’m helpless,” or “I’m always on the verge of danger.” High anxiety, the nervous system’s “flight or fight,” when triggered can affect your daily life and rob you of your confidence to get back behind the wheel.
During EMDR sessions, you will revisit the traumatic memories of the accident while engaging in bilateral stimulation. Bilateral stimulation refers to the use of a stimulus, as in left-right eye movements or hand tappers, to keep both sides of the brain activated (similar to the natural REM sleep pattern). Keeping both sides of the brain activated allows the body to calm and allows the brain to process the visualized event. By keeping both sides of your brain active, bilateral stimulation stops the nervous system from being highjacked through “Flight or Fight.” Bilateral stimulation is a natural process, allowing your brain to release trauma, making memories less emotionally charged.
The 9 Phases Of EMDR Therapy
Below is an illustration of the protocol in the context of an EMDR therapy session, using a minor car accident as an example.
Phase 1: History-taking and Treatment Planning
Before diving into EMDR therapy, we will conduct an extensive assessment to understand your personal history, including the minor car accident and any other earlier or relevant traumas or stressors. This phase helps tailor the EMDR protocol to your specific needs and experiences.
In the case of a minor car accident, we will explore not only the details of the accident itself but also your emotional reactions, thoughts, and beliefs related to the event. For instance, you might reveal that you now experience heightened anxiety when driving, feeling unsafe, even though the accident was minor. Identifying these emotions and beliefs is crucial for the treatment plan.
Phase 2: Preparation
In this phase, I will explain the EMDR process, ensuring you understand what to expect and how it works. Establishing trust and rapport together creates a safe space for the processing of traumatic memories.
With a minor car accident, you might discuss your current anxiety related to driving and your desire to feel more relaxed and in control behind the wheel. I will explain how EMDR can help you achieve these goals by reprocessing the traumatic memory and modifying associated negative beliefs.
Phases 3-6: Assessment, Desensitization, Installation, and Body Scan
Now, you’ll begin the core phases of EMDR, which involve the bilateral stimulation that sets EMDR apart. During the Desensitization phase, you’ll focus on the traumatic memory of the car accident. While engaging in bilateral stimulation, such as following the light bar, or using hand tappers, you’ll allow your mind to freely access thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations associated with the accident. This back-and-forth eye movement mimics the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep phase, during which the brain naturally processes and integrates experiences. EMDR’s bilateral stimulation helps individuals access traumatic memories and emotions while allowing the brain to reprocess them in a less distressing way.
For instance, as you think about the car accident, you might recall the screeching tires, the sudden jolt, and the fear you felt at that moment. You will be guided through this process, helping you process these memories with decreasing emotional intensity.
In the Installation phase, you’ll replace negative beliefs associated with the car accident with more positive ones. If your belief was, “I’m not safe on the road,” you then reframe the negative belief to something like, “I can navigate the road safely.” This phase reinforces the cognitive restructuring essential to move from a negative to a positive belief system.
The Body Scan phase helps identify any residual tension or discomfort in your body associated with the trauma. In the case of the car accident, you might have noticed a persistent tightness in your chest or a racing heartbeat when thinking about driving. The Body Scan allows you to release these physical manifestations of stress and trauma.
Phases 7-8: Closure and Reevaluation
After processing the traumatic memory of the car accident, you’ll engage in Closure, which involves grounding techniques to ensure you feel safe and stable at the end of each session. You will learn strategies for self-soothing if any distressing emotions arise between sessions.
Reevaluation occurs at subsequent sessions to assess your progress and determine if there are any remaining aspects of the car accident trauma that need further processing. It’s essential to ensure that the EMDR therapy is effectively reducing your anxiety and reshaping your beliefs about driving.
Phase 9: Integration and Follow-up
In the final phase, Integration, we will discuss how to integrate the positive changes you’ve experienced into your daily life. For the car accident example, this might involve practicing driving in a controlled and gradual manner to rebuild your confidence.
EMDR doesn’t just treat the symptoms; it addresses the root causes of trauma and helps you regain control over your life. Over time, you’ll notice that your anxiety related to driving diminishes, and you’ll be able to approach the road with a sense of calm and confidence.
In summary, the EMDR protocol is a systematic approach to processing traumatic memories and modifying negative beliefs. Whether the trauma is major or minor, like a car accident, EMDR can be a powerful tool for healing and restoring emotional well-being. It empowers individuals to face their traumatic experiences, reframe their beliefs, and move forward with newfound resilience and confidence.
Contact me for more information on how EMDR may help you find relief from traumatic events.
I am experienced in working with diverse populations and have helped individuals from various backgrounds find healing and restoration. My practice is LGBTQ+-affirming and culturally sensitive, committed to providing an inclusive and non-judgmental space for all clients.
Office Location: 1617 Taylor St, Port Coquitlam, BC V3C 4G7