Can EMDR Therapy Help Heal Trauma?

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Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing—also known as EMDR—has continued to grow in popularity in recent years.

Initially developed for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, EMDR therapy, according to Cleveland Clinic, involves moving your eyes a specific way while you process traumatic memories with a goal of healing from trauma or other distressing life experiences.

According to Ebony Crane, LMSW, Owner and Founder of Resilience Therapy, LLC, our brains process hundreds of experiences on a daily basis, some of which release higher levels of stress hormones that can cause a barrier in the processing flow, keeping particular experiences that may be traumatic or stressful from being properly processed.

"The stuck experiences are trapped with the initial thoughts about the situation, the initial sensations in our body, the initial emotions and other senses like smells, tastes, etc.," Crane said. "This is why when an individual is 'triggered' or reminded of the past experience, the past becomes the present and there are connected maladaptive behaviors and beliefs."

EMDR therapy, Crane explained, essentially allows for the experiences that are stuck in the limbic (emotional) part of our brain to be processed using bilateral stimulation to remove the barrier.

"Bilateral stimulation is a fancy word for stimulating the left side and then right side of the brain," Crane said, noting this is accomplished by using taps, eye movements, pulsators, sounds and other forms of stimulation. "Once the experience is not 'stuck' anymore, the experience will have an adaptive or healthy response, which supports that the experience has been processed."

We asked Crane how EMDR therapy differs from other traditional forms of therapy folks may already be familiar with.

"With EMDR, there is minimal talking and we steer away from utilizing the frontal lobe and reasoning," Crane shared, adding that some EMDR protocols allow for no words at all. "With EMDR there is no homework. Your brain does the work in session with the guidance of the trained therapist."

The benefits from EMDR, according to Crane, are vast.

"EMDR can prevent PTSD, heal generational trauma and traumas that an individual did not witness but only has heard of and it can alleviate symptoms of PTSD that can cause remission," Crane said. "EMDR can also be utilized to address anxiety, eating disorders and grief—not just PTSD."

If you're wondering if you're a good candidate for EMDR therapy, Crane recommends reaching out to a few certified EMDR therapists like herself to learn more.

"Research and studies have allowed for EMDR to be a solution for various concerns, so the only thing that wouldn't make someone a good candidate is if they were personally not fond of the protocol," she said. "Because of its ability to address generational trauma, in my opinion EMDR therapy is gold to BIPOC individuals."

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.

This article originally appeared in the Jun/Jul '24 issue of West Michigan Woman.


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