What is EMDR Therapy in Toronto?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an empirically supported treatment originally used to treat trauma, but now used to treat a wide array of psychopathologies such as Anxiety and Depression.  It was discovered by Francine Shapiro in 1987. Central to EMDR, is the belief that most psychopathologies (Depression, Anxiety, etc) have their roots in disturbing early life experiences.  In order to alleviate distressing symptoms in the present, a person must heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences in the past.

To explain how EMDR works to heal trauma and other psychopathologies, I will use the metaphor of a wound.  Have you noticed when you get a wound from a fall or a bump your body seems to work seamlessly to heal the wound?  You don’t even notice the healing process because the body works quickly and adaptively to heal the wound.  Once it is healed – you typically forget about it.   However, if the wound gets infected your body’s natural healing properties get blocked, the wound may fester and swell up and continue to bother you. In order to facilitate the natural healing process, you need to do something to remove the infection.   Once, the infection is addressed, the body carries on with its natural healing process.

We can look at early distressing life experiences and events and life traumas like an emotional wound.  During REM sleep, it is posited that the brain does a lot of its processing and healing of distressing events, however if for some reason the brain becomes challenged in its adaptive processing it creates an emotional wound.  The emotional wound can “fester” and challenge you with present day symptoms until the emotional “infection” is adaptively processed. 

Emotional wounds not adaptively processed can cause present day symptoms such as: numbing, depression, feeling overwhelmed, anxiety, feeling out of body.  EMDR therapy is a way of “removing emotional blocks” so that the brain can continue its natural adaptive process of healing.

We used to think that it took years of therapeutic work to “recover” from these emotional wounds.  EMDR has proven this to be false and has shown itself to help process distressing events in a much more time efficient and processes things in a more effective way.   

How does it work?

EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment. The first stages have to do with developmental history taking and building skills around grounding and distress tolerance.  Jennifer and you will work together to identify processing “targets” in your life history. Eye movements (or other bilateral stimulation) are used during one phase of the process. (https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/eight-phases-of-emdr/) It is posited that the bilateral (right brain and left brain) stimulation of the target uses the same biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.  As you process a “target” memory, you will notice the linked internal associations (body, emotions, events) arising and you begin to process the memory. If the EMDR therapy process has been a success, your “target” becomes “desensitized”.  

The meaning of the “target” has shifted from a negative cognition of the event to a more adaptive or “positive” cognition about the event.  For instance, if a target memory was your parent’s divorce and your negative cognition around the event was “It is my fault” that my parents divorced.  The cognition or belief gets transformed on an emotional, physical and narrative level to something like “it was not my fault it was between my parents”.  Then, when you think about the memory in the present, you will now associate the positive cognition with the memory.  Unlike talk therapy, the insights clients gain in EMDR therapy result not so much from clinician interpretation, but from the client’s own accelerated intellectual and emotional processes.  The net effect is that clients conclude EMDR therapy feeling empowered by the very experiences that once challenged them emotionally and physically.  Their wounds have not just closed, they have transformed. As a natural outcome of the EMDR therapeutic process, the clients’ your, feelings and behavior are all robust indicators of emotional health and resolution—all without speaking in detail or doing homework used in other therapies. (https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/eight-phases-of-emdr/).

What can EMDR therapy be used to treat?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and panic attacks, depression, stress, phobias, sleep problems, complicated grief, addictions, pain relief, phantom limb pain, self esteem and performance anxiety.