EMDR Still Rocks!

I’m changing and growing every day from my work with EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Curious about what makes the process tick, I’ve been reading the book Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-help Techniques from EMDR Therapy by Dr. Francine Shapiro, the founder and developer of EMDR.


Shapiro talks about the fact that some memories are so distressing that “the brain’s information processing system becomes disrupted and can’t take the memory to resolution on its own” (30). In EMDR therapy, “the original memory is accessed, connections changed and then stored with new modifications in a neurobiological process called ‘reconsolidating'” (31). EMDR actually retransfigures the way a memory is stored, she explains. It physically alters the coding. I’m no scientist, but given what I am reading in this book and given my experience in therapy, it seems that EMDR literally dislocates a distressing memory and moves it somewhere more neutral. EMDR functions like dreaming in sleep, integrating information and, as a result, removing blocks.

In an EMDR session, I start out by choosing a particular, distressing memory to work on. During a set, or a series, of thirty-forty wandings (eyes directed rapidly back and forth by a wand), I hold this memory in my mind and aware of the different thoughts and  feelings that arise as I follow the wand. In the break between sets, my therapist asks me what transpired. I report and often, she simply tells me to resume and begins moving the wand again. I continue where I left off but sometimes, an associated memory moves to center stage–a different, distressing event that is emotionally similar to the memory with which I began. I remember the thoughts and feelings connected with this associated memory. In this way, several unresolved memories are undergoing a shift. The healing, therefore, is more exponential than linear and perhaps that’s where the power lies.

I’ve not only been working on the post-traumatic stress from infant surgery without anesthesia but also trauma from disruptions in my relationship with my mother, father and brother. When I leave therapy, I feel fresh, cleansed and new. An amazing clarity has washed my windshield clean and I move in the world in a more fluid fashion. My boundaries are more clear and I am more aware of  what I want or what I need. My brain works better and I feel energized.

The experience of EMDR is challenging to write about because it’s not tangible, not something one can hold in her hand and describe, but that’s the challenge of writing, isn’t it? To say what seems indescribable and unsayable? To communicate the nuances of experience? To reach across a potentially uncrossable chasm because one understands the importance of getting to the other side?

Trauma survivors, or anyone who feels stuck, if you haven’t yet tried EMDR, do. If you need more information, read this book. Shapiro’s ideas are easily accessible. She uses examples that anyone can relate to. In her words: “This book is about understanding why we are who we are, and learning what we can do about pain and negative reactions that don’t serve us. It’s also about identifying and opening the blocks to feelings of happiness and well-being” (16). Let’s bring more ease, clarity, and joy into our lives. Let’s use EMDR to heal from trauma.

6 Responses to EMDR Still Rocks!

  1. Well done again, Wendy! Time after time you are bringing books and therapies to light which have been instrumental in your healing from the trauma of infant surgery without anesthesia. Your outline of what each has meant to you is very clear despite as you say, a therapy like EMDR being intangible and really in need of being personally experienced. Your enthusiasm for what you have read and discovered is also palpable! Thank you for bringing to light and unpacking (as best as can be done) so many resources for healing from ptsd.

  2. Thank you, Fred for appreciating my post. I so want folks to ‘get it’ about EMDR and whatever else that will help people heal from trauma. Certainly one size does not fit all, so it’s important to report on as many avenues as I can honestly cover, that is, areas in which I’ve had at least some experience. About my enthusiasm, thankfully I’ve met so many helpful and positive people, you included of course, who’ve helped me on my journey. Their/your role modeling has contributed to my attitude, for sure. I feel so grateful.

  3. Searching for a solution. I don’t remember my infant pain, so how would EMDR help me process it? I hope there is a way to utilize this wonderful healing method.

    • Hi Deborah, So glad you wrote me. I don’t ‘remember’ mine either. So here’s an example of how I work with EMDR. Last session, I sat with my eyes closed, like I do every morning when I meditate. Every morning, my body is super tense. All the cells feel as though they are on alert. So then I sit there with the therapist and get in touch with this frozenness in my body. I open my eyes and she starts moving the wand back and forth. I follow with my eyes and, for me, tears came immediately and then I follow my feelings or whatever comes up as it arises. I cried for a bit. Then I felt fear. She’s still waving the wand. Since I’m dealing with preverbal trauma, I present my body issues, or my emotions or an image that is a trigger of anxiety. Once I worked on the bright, round lights that cause me to feel terror. I sat in the session and brought the image of a large round light, which I’m sure are surgery lights but I don’t know in words since I had none when I had my surgery at 26 days old. I imagine a round lit surgery lamp and watch the wand and all kinds of emotions come into play and in-between wandings, the therapist and I discuss what came up for me. Sometimes she’ll make suggestions in how to continue, but often she doesn’t; she simply tells me to stay with where I left off and then she moves the wand back and forth and I follow. I hope this helps. Wanding emotion, body sensation, and images that are anxiety triggers are what I work on to heal the trauma from infant surgery without anesthesia at 26 days old. Please feel free to write back with any questions or comments. I’m glad to share what I know. Thank you so much for commenting and connecting with me. Do you think you might try it?

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