Living in the past can prevent you from enjoying the present to the fullest. Sometimes, the memories of painful events can take over our lives. They can keep us from interacting with others or even derail us from going to school or work.
These can be symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. Symptoms of PTSD can show up immediately after an event or manifest over time. But all hope is not lost. PTSD is treatable with something called rapid eye movement therapy.
This type of therapy is known as EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.
What is EMDR?
EMDR is a type of therapy that focuses on relieving symptoms of trauma or other painful events. While EMDR specializes in treating PTSD, it doesn’t mean it’s only for people who experience symptoms of PTSD. Any painful memory or event can benefit from the techniques in EMDR.
Often, we face painful events that don’t fall under the realm of trauma. Divorces, bad breakups, feeling threatened in school or work, or racially motivated threats could fall under painful events that can benefit from EMDR.
EMDR believes that people who’ve experienced trauma are living with unprocessed memories. Unprocessed memories are memories we haven’t digested or analyzed because they’re too painful to confront.
How does EMDR work?
The basics of EMDR break down into two major components: desensitization and reprocessing.
First, a therapist sits down with a patient and encourages relaxation techniques. They may teach the patient breathing techniques to help them along the way of recounting their memories. Ambiance can also be a part of the calming experience. The patient must feel comfortable enough to share their memories, and it’s the therapists’ job to make sure they do.
From here, patients begin to recount a painful experience at their own pace. If it’s too much, therapists encourage baby steps. In between the recounting, therapists will perform what’s called bilateral stimulation.
Bilateral stimulation is psychology jargon for saying you’re focusing on something external while talking about the past. The therapist could ask the patient to follow their hand for about 20 seconds. This bilateral stimulation has been proven to lessen the symptoms of PTSD, and it’s a technique to focus a patient on the present. This process is the desensitization process.
Once the patient feels comfortable enough to talk freely about their past, therapists ask more profound questions about the event. It’s less of an analysis and more of a guided conversation that lets both parties safely unravel the past and look at the events more objectively.
Therapists will allow patients the opportunity to talk as little or as much as they want. This empowers them to confront the events at their own pace. It also gives patients the chance to change the narrative of their memories. This process is the reprocessing process.
By helping patients confront their memories and letting them understand and restructure the event, EMDR gives patients the tools to take control of their present and future.
Benefits of EMDR
Now, let’s look at some of the benefits of EMDR therapy.
Reduced Anxiety and Stress
EMDR teaches patients breathing exercises and calming techniques before talking about their traumatic experiences. These same exercises can help ease anxiety and stress in future settings. Patients can also process the emotions and thoughts of an experience with more nuance and understanding.
As therapy progresses, patients will find that the traumatic experiences will have less power over them. The brain begins to heal from unprocessed memories. This healing can help patients experience fewer symptoms in the future.
More Control over Your Life
By addressing unprocessed memories, patients can understand how their mind works. This nuanced understanding gives patients a more comprehensive outlook on how their past affects their present. With this knowledge, patients can take greater control of their circumstances and lives.
Positive Changes Over Time
EMDR offers the space for patients to create a blueprint. By mapping out how they processed memories, patients have a guide to dealing with unpleasant memories. This understanding can lead to opening up about other instances in their life that may have resulted from their past trauma.
With the tools to prevent the past from taking over the present, patients can build resilience and understanding to tackle future situations differently.
If you’ve experienced trauma or have symptoms of PTSD, reach out to a licensed therapist today.
Our past should not rule our present.
What happened to us may not have been up to us. But what we do about it in the present and future is up to us.