EMDR Therapy

Ottawa EMDR Therapy

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), is a very effective form of psychotherapy that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches. It has been extensively researched and proven useful for the treatment of a wide range of psychological issues. EMDR therapy has the ability to permanently eliminate symptoms of stress and trauma and is recognized by many regulatory bodies including the American Psychiatric Association, the US Department of Defense/Veterans Affairs and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

Unlike other forms of psychotherapy, EMDR treatment requires no homework nor does it require the client to speak about traumatic experiences in depth. EMDR therapy has the ability to provide significant relief in up to 1/3 fewer sessions.

How does EMDR Therapy work?

EMDR is based on the idea that the brain has the ability to heal itself of mental and emotional injuries in the same way that the body can heal physical damage. As restoration of the physical body can be blocked by infection or dirt in the wound, there can be also be blocks that prevent the brain from "digesting" the difficult experience and moving towards healing.

Our memory systems are constantly at work to help us interpret and process our daily experiences and different types of experiences can end up being stored in different ways in memory. Ideally, when bad things happen they begin to move through the brain’s digestion process so that information about the experience can be stored adaptively. As the experience is processed, the brain stores what is useful for future reference and discards the rest, namely the uncomfortable feelings, body sensations and negative thoughts that go along with an unpleasant or traumatic experience. This processing occurs, with time, as we think about and talk about the experience. Eventually, we come to have peace with the memory. We know it was a terrible experience but it not longer carries the same emotional weight.

Other times, the nature of overwhelming or stressful life experiences can cause them to get “stuck” in memory, in an unprocessed form, often with their emotional and even physical content still attached. Because they are stuck the negative pieces are not discarded, so that when we think about the memory it “feels” like it’s still happening. Figuratively, it’s like a big chunk of steak sitting in the stomach that can't be digested and goes nowhere.

EMDR therapy assumes that many psychological symptoms and conditions are the result of this incomplete processing of disturbing experiences because they are still available in their original form with all of their negative content still attached and can be reactivated by seemingly innocuous day-to-day things. When triggered these memories can bring with them whatever is still attached sudden anxiety, or anger for example. The job of EMDR treatment is to jumpstart the brain’s “digestion” of the stuck experience so that the negative content can be stripped off.

EMDR Therapy

During the course of EMDR therapy, the experiences that have generated the symptoms are first identified and then reprocessed so that the material no longer carries all its negative content and is therefore no longer psychologically disruptive.“Processing” does not involve in depth talking about the memories. The client thinks about the upsetting material while following the EMDR therapist’s hand moving from side to side with their eyes or listening to a headset with alternating beeps. It is this bilateral (or side-to-side) stimulation of moving the eyes or listening to the beeps that activates the brain’s own healing abilities and allows the disturbing material to move though the brain’s “digestion” process. It is believed to be similar to what is happening spontaneously during REM sleep.

As EMDR therapy progresses, the client is encouraged to “notice” as new parts of the memory come to mind or as they experience new feelings or body sensations. The EMDR therapist will pause every so often to ask “what are you noticing now?” to ensure that the process is moving forward.The only talking necessary is during these short pauses where the client gives a brief snapshot of what they are currently remembering or feeling. The process continues until the client reports that the memory is no longer disturbing.

Some of the issues EMDR therapy can address:

  • abuse
  • anxiety
  • anger
  • depression
  • panic attacks
  • phobias
  • PTSD
  • sexual assault

I would be happy to speak with you by phone or email to answer any questions you may have. Contact me 

For more information on EMDR:

EMDR International Association

EMDR Humanitarian Assistance Programs