True healing, recovery – coming back into connection can only occur when we synchronise the healing of the mind, brain and body.
What is EMDR Therapy
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is one of the most significant, exciting and innovative developments for decades in the treatment of trauma-related conditions.
Our bodies are wired to keep us alive. When traumatic experiences happen - whether to us or to someone close to us - our brain will tip into a stress response (you might know this as the fight/flight/freeze response, when adrenaline floods our system and we go into survival mode). While talking therapies can be useful for many clients, different approaches are needed to treat trauma and psychological injury:
EMDR is a complex method of psychotherapy that integrates many of the successful elements of a range of therapeutic approaches. It works directly with the brain and the way memories, thoughts, feelings, and body sensations are stored when we are traumatised or overwhelmed by negative life experiences. EMDR therapy processes underlying disturbing memories that are the cause of symptoms. It is a powerful and effective treatment approach.
Neurobiology of Trauma
EMDR is one of the ways we can work to change the brain through working with the body and the autonomic nervous system. It’s a well-researched, evidence-based area of therapy, making it one of the trauma treatment paths recommended by (among others) the World Health Organisation and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which guides healthcare services provided through the NHS.
Most of the time your body routinely manages new information and experiences without your awareness. One of the ways in which it does this naturally is during REM state sleep. However, when something out of the ordinary occurs and you are traumatized by an overwhelming event (a car accident) or by being repeatedly subjected to distress (childhood abuse/neglect), your natural coping mechanism can become overloaded. This overloading can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in your brain or being "unprocessed.” Often the memory itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings, negative thoughts, uncomfortable body sensations and disturbing images are continually triggered in the present. Your ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can therefore become inhibited.
Traumatic incidents are stored differently in the brain than non-traumatic experiences. The emotions, thoughts and sensory perceptions, which were appropriate at the time of the trauma, can be triggered throughout the person’s life at times when trauma is not present.
EMDR has been shown to help the mind “heal” more rapidly and more fully than other types of non-trauma based psychotherapies. EMDR uses the brains information processing system to help an individual move towards healing by removing blocks in the system that stop healing from occurring and activate the brain’s natural healing processes. (EMDR.com).
EMDR uses “bilateral stimulation” whether that is eye movements or tapping or sound or touch sensors, it is movement that crosses from the left to right hemispheres of the brain. This type of movement has been shown to be both calming and integrative. The approach has been shown to help release trapped information in the mind and body.
The negative beliefs your brain has about the memory are then re-categorised as neutral or positive, with repetition of the eye movements until the memory is no longer disturbing. The healing takes place more rapidly than in traditional talking therapy, and the clearing of emotional and physical blockages often results in clients experiencing a strong sense of joy as well as renewed, deep connections with themselves and others.
For some, traditional EMDR is less effective. This is usually because of deep attachment wounding and relational trauma caused by neglect, physical trauma, misattunement by caregivers, substance abuse in the home, childhood physical or sexual abuse.
When children’s caregivers neglect their needs, they learn to anticipate rejection and withdrawal. The child may learn to cope by blocking out their parental figures neglect or hostility and acting as if it doesn’t matter. But as Dr. Bessel van der Kolk explains “The Body Keeps the Score”. It remains in a state of hyper vigilance, prepared to protect from deprivation, or abandonment. This can have devastating effects leading the individual to feel empty and disconnected in other words “not feeling real inside”. When you suffer from this level of disconnection nothing matters. It becomes incredibly difficult to understand or attend to your own needs. Self-destructive behaviours such as self-harm, eating disorders and addiction may develop to compensate for these unmet childhood needs. Chronic emotional abuse and neglect can be just as devastating as physical and sexual abuse.
Through a neuroscience lens, brain-imaging studies of clients with chronic trauma have found abnormal increased activation of the insula. This area of the brain integrates and interprets information from sensory organs, which activate the amygdala the part of the brain that signals the nervous system into the fight, flight or freeze response.
If you have suffered trauma, these signals can fire most of the time. Without any conscious influence, for no apparent present-day reason you can feel angry, depressed, shut down, anxious or on edge. You may have a sense of impending doom always fearing that the worst will happen. These powerful emotions are generated as a survival response deep inside the brain and cannot be changed by reason or understanding.
Attachment-focused EMDR (AF-EMDR) incorporates talking therapy and its healing relationship with EMDR to process traumas and Resource Tapping™ to focus on healing developmental deficits and repair attachment wounds.
How AF-EMDR Works
Attachment-Focused EMDR (AF-EMDR) uses a combination of therapies, including EMDR, traditional talk therapies and “resourcing” to help clients that have not responded to the basic EMDR protocols because of trauma or attachment deficits. It approaches clients from an attachment theory focus and with an understanding of the role of attachment in creating secure connection to self and others. This modified approach, places greater emphasis on developing resources to help create neuronal pathways where they may be weak or non-existent to repair developmental deficits. Clients with relationship difficulties, difficulty at work, depression, and other symptoms often do not feel fully alive because of the trauma they faced at some point in life, whether it is childhood trauma, medical trauma, or some other situation. The approach incorporates methods to repair the attachment disorder that may exist so clients can repair and form close relationships again. This method can help repair developmental deficits that often occur as a result of abuse, neglect, addiction, and mental illness in self or in the family.