In order to understand EMDR, one needs to be clear about how trauma can affect the brain. When an individual experiences a traumatic event or multiple traumas they may develop what is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD as a response to the overwhelming event(s). When this occurs, the brain fails to successfully process the trauma leaving it “stuck” or “frozen” in the central nervous system. This often leads to numbness, dissociation, severe anxiety, depression, insomnia, addictions and physical complaints for the sufferer. In everyday life, the here and now, the body fails to recognize that the person is now safe and it reacts as though the danger is current, leaving the individual in a state of arousal. EMDR therapy as a treatment, is unique because it facilitates the processing of trauma information that has become “stuck” in the central nervous system. The various elements of EMDR therapy serves to calm the nervous system and lessen anxiety. It “uploads” for lack of a better word a more corrective experience, moving the client from pain and danger to “I survived,” “It wasn’t my fault” or “I did all that I could” as examples. Brain scans have actually captured information transferring from one side of a brain to another as a person experiences an EMDR session. The same cannot be said for other forms of therapies. Historically, we have used talk-based therapies, CBT or drugs to ameliorate the symptoms associated with PTSD. Talk therapy and a trusting relationship with the therapist is absolutely necessary and supportive for the duration of the treatment, but often, the brain will begin to loop back into the trauma, and the cycle will begin again.
We now know that individuals with PTSD have limbic systems that are more active then non-PTSD therapy clients. Psychotherapy or talk therapy may not de-condition the limbic system. These individuals experience extreme frustration as they work diligently in sessions and experience little symptomatic relief. Additionally, the retelling of their trauma experiences often leaves them retraumatized and even more vulnerable. Regarding the neurobiology of trauma we now know that early childhood trauma causes “synaptic pruning” which predisposes a person to developing PTSD. A traumatic event “freezes” the integrative processes of the brain; the information is then stored in a fragmented form in the right side of the brain. Many individuals with trauma histories have lost the capacity to analyze and categorize arousing information because they can’t always “talk” about it and the left hemisphere is then “locked out” of the process. In short, the person attempting to talk their way to healing cannot utilize language in a way that allows them to gain the necessary distance from the painful stimulus. EMDR uses specific protocols to create distance so that the trauma can be reprocessed and fully integrated into both hemispheres of the brain. The grip of hyper-arousal and body tension is now lessened for the client and the nervous system can ease into a new calm.
After successful EMDR treatment the original trauma targets are less activating for clients. In short, their brains are not as geared to traumatic stimuli and better able to attend to more neutral stimuli going forward. In my opinion, the real beauty of EMDR treatment lies in its ability to provide the nervous system with calming, supportive experiences and images that serve the recovering client well after treatment has ended. The client is now empowered with an enhanced capacity to self-soothe and call upon nurturing and supportive images. Feelings of terror and helplessness are replaced with positive emotions and the new belief that one has power and efficacy in the here and now. When it comes to un-freezing trauma, the powerful combination of a supportive therapist and the wisdom of mind/body integration may provide superior treatment.
EMDR can treat trauma-related symptoms, as well as performance issues, addiction, substance abuse, depression, nightmares, fears, anxiety, panic disorder, eating disorders, health concerns, insomnia, sexual & emotional abuse issues and relationship problems.
Kimberly Seelbrede is a licensed New York City psychotherapist, consultant and EMDR therapist who specializes in an integrative approach to psychotherapy and coaching, working with adults, adolescents and couples. Kimberly is trained to collaborate with you in developing the insight and coping skills to address many concerns including: relationship difficulties, anxiety, depression, panic disorder, self-esteem, self-harm, ADD, ADHD, social difficulties, adolescent challenges, family issues, underachievement, perfectionism, identity concerns, sexual problems, addictions, compulsions, binge eating, phobias, obsessions, PTSD, trauma, loss and transitions, life purpose, health concerns, weight management, stress management, performance problems, life balance and meditation and mindfulness support. Please email Kimberly to arrange a consultation in her Manhattan office.
Kimberly completed her graduate studies at New York University and has advanced post-graduate psychotherapy training from NYU, psychodynamic psychotherapy training and advanced training to practice EMDR Therapy as well as specialized training in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), DBT therapy from Behavioral Tech, Mindfulness training and Integrative Therapy training from the Urban Zen foundation. In her work with couples, she applies her training from The Gottman Institute, Non-Violent Communication (NVC) the work of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT).