EMDR™ (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) is a well researched form of treatment for traumatic disorders--that is, any destabilizing experience from the past that continues to be re-experienced as if in the present--big “T” or little “t” traumas. Like other body based treatments such as Somatic Experiencing™, EMDR is based on the premise that trauma is actually not the event per se, but the body’s reaction to an event that is perceived as dangerous, which then activates the nervous system’s survival response cycle. If this cycle is interrupted in any way, suppressing the natural inclination of the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the nervous system to regulate themselves, traumatic reactions occur and symptoms develop.
We know from research that these traumatic reactions result in a biochemical imbalance and an interference with the brain’s information processing system. This imbalance prevents the person from moving to a state of adaptive resolution. The result of this failure is that sensations, images, behaviors, affects and meanings derived from the traumatic experience become either overly charged, or dissociated from each other, creating stuckness in the nervous system in the form of symptoms and undischarged energy.
In a similar way to Somatic Experiencing or CBT, EMDR is a form of accelerated information processing in the human brain. By engaging in bilateral stimulation of the brain via eye movements, or tapping both sides of the body, or alternating sounds in the ears, it is theorized that EMDR may actually unlock the previously locked processing of information that governs a fully integrated experience of an event-- resulting in improved hemispheric communication. It is possible that it does this by accessing the same mechanisms as in REM sleep, or by initiating a natural orienting reflex, fundamental to the survival response, which in turn, contributes to desensitization in the nervous system.
Clinicians who practice EMDR follow a kind of protocol that invites the person to use mindfulness techniques that gain access to various parts of their experience related to a traumatic event--similar to practices used in Somatic Experiencing. Coupled with bilateral stimulation, the therapist checks in on current sensations, beliefs, and emotions as the person recalls an event from the past. This line of inquiry and invitation to attention in the present moment, eventually leads to a renegotiation of the initial traumatic event and moves it in both the brain and the body, from an experience of reliving, to that of a memory.