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About Attachment-Focused EMDR

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.  EMDR is evidence based and has an 80% success rate with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The American Psychological Association, World Health Organization, and the Department of Veterans Affairs have all endorsed EMDR as a first-line treatment for trauma.  

EMDR was discovered by Francine Shapiro, PhD, in the late 1980's.  One of her students, Laurel Parnell, PhD, went on to modify the original EMDR protocols to create Attachment-Focused EMDR.  The "attachment focus" emphasizes therapist/client connection, using "resources" to strengthen the client in preparation for EMDR sessions, and "interweaves" to help process the traumatic memory.  I have completed EMDR basic training through the Parnell institute and am working toward certification.

We don't completely understand how EMDR works in the brain, but this is one theory often referenced:

During REM sleep your eyes are moving back and forth as you process your day, healing small emotional hurts through the metaphors in your dreams, filing away information you need and strengthening things you learned.  Just like our bodies, our brains are always working toward healing and health.  

Most memories are integrated into our brains and if we don't think about them, fade away.  Trauma memories are stored in the brain with all the emotions, physical sensations, distorted thoughts and perceptions intact.  This information functions as a filter of our present environment so if there something similar to what was happening during the past trauma our bodies can go on high alert to protect us.  Unfortunately, this means a smell, sound, or familiar face can trigger severe anxiety and unwanted behaviors.


EMDR uses bilateral stimulation (I use small, hand held pulsars) to access the part of the brain used during REM sleep to process traumatic memories and integrate them into the brain.  The meaning that comes with painful events is transformed on an emotional level. Due to a traumatic experience, a person may believe they are bad, at fault for the event, have no control in life, or that they won't survive.  These beliefs create behaviors that fall in line with the belief.  After a successful EMDR session with a target memory, the belief changes from, "I'm bad" to "I was only 5!" or "I survived and I am strong," or whatever version of this is appropriate for the person, and this leads to behaviors that are more adaptive and healthy.

It's been amazing for me to watch people heal using this tool.  There is a lot of preparation before the EMDR processing begins and it is hard work to face those memories.  But not as hard as dealing with the difficult emotions and behaviors produced by traumatic experiences that interrupt our lives on a daily basis.  

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