what is EMDR? . . .
Gabriele uses EMDR (Eye-Movement-Desensitization-Reprocessing), a technique originally developed to overcome post-traumatic stress disorders, to deal with negativity, irritability, chronic stress patterns, and unhappiness.
“The aim of EMDR treatment is to achieve the most profound and comprehensive treatment effects in the shortest period of time.”
– from the EMDR International Association’s Definition of EMDR
A study comparing the effectiveness of Prozac vs. EMDR showed that EMDR was more successful that Prozac in achieving substantial and sustained reductions in anxiety and depression.
– The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, January 2007
“The speed at which change occurs during EMDR contradicts the traditional notion of time as essential for physiological healing. EMDR has integrated elements from many different schools of psychotherapy into its protocols, making EMDR applicable to a variety of clinical populations.”
-Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD, Boston University School of Medicine
My simple goal is to help you achieve the results you want as quickly, easily, and safely as possible, and to make sure that those results “stick” permanently.
The methods I use for this are based on the most recent developments in psychology and also neuroscience, which is continuously and rapidly expanding our understanding of psychological function and performance. I think the easiest way to explain what I do and how I do it is to simply answer a series of the most common questions I get.
“Why has psychological treatment—even with drugs—always been such a lengthy process, and not always ended up working that great?”
In the past, all we had to go on was symptoms—we had no way to know for sure what was actually causing the symptoms. For most emotional issues that people want to change, there’s no lab work, x-rays, or anything else that can be done to actually identify the cause. So psychological treatment has always been somewhat of a “trial & error” process. Traditional therapy has attempted to produce change by generating insights into the problems you experience.
In fact, most of my clients intellectually know what holds them back, but are somehow unable to change the negative, repetitive patterns.
Cutting edge research has found that this problem of repetition is caused by innate structures in your brain. The unprocessed stressful events or traumas from your past reside in the part of the brain that is not affected by rational thought, leading to hidden negative thought patterns that interfere with your ability to live life fully.
These patterns generate all kinds of barriers, including the inability to love fully, overachieving (often subconscious way of avoiding love relationships), underachieving, depression, additions, weight problems, fear of public speaking, commitment phobia, sports and business performance anxiety, deep rooted anger, sleep problems, life out of balance and the inability to make desired life changes.
We now understand that there six different areas of the brain that essentially control all psychological functioning. All emotional disturbances are caused by either too much activity or too little activity in or more of these six areas.
A recent technology called SPECT scanning has been developed that allows us to actually see the activity in a person’s brain so that we know exactly what we’re dealing with (for more information on SPECT scanning, I would encourage you to go to www.brainplace.com, website of neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Amen, the world’s foremost expert on the development and use of SPECT scanning). The closest one is in Fairfield, California.
I will show you actual SPECT scans that will help you get a good visual understanding of what the activity in your brain probably looks like.
“So what would be causing those parts of my brain to have too much or too little activity going on?”
All patterns (brain activity patterns, thinking patterns, emotional patterns, behavior patterns, communication patterns, relationship patterns)—both the good ones and the bad ones—are simply the result of an accumulation of experiences stored in your brain and nervous system. Most of the negative “patterns” people come to me wanting to change have been caused by one of two things:
The first is something called imprinting. From the time you’re born (and actually earlier), your brain starts developing very rapidly, and how it develops is shaped tremendously by your genes and by everything being pulled in through your five senses. This creates an “imprint” on your developing brain, which becomes sort of a “default mode” — the conditioned way you would naturally tend to think, feel, and act, unless other forces have somehow reshaped this imprinting later on. So early life experiences (even ones you can’t consciously remember) – especially experiences with caregivers and others close around you plus your unique reactions to those events – have a massive influence on personality development.
The second major shaping influence for these patterns is stress. Pretty much from conception onward, anytime you’re under any type of stress your brain triggers certain glands in your body to produce a large amount of hormones we call “stress hormones”—things like adrenaline, cortisol, and some other things. During these periods of time your brain does not process the information coming in through your five senses the way it normally does. This leads to a chain reaction of effects in your nervous system: it’s a little hard to explain, but it’s kind of like “undigested” sensory data that creates “blockages” in your nervous system, alteration to pathways within your nervous system, and alterations to brain chemistry where your neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, chetacholamine, epinephrine, nor-epinephrine, etc.) get thrown out of balance.
When feeling threatened, you respond with the fight/flight or freeze response, your instincts take over. In modern life, it is often very difficult to fight or flee a traumatic situation (i.e. leave an abusive marriage due to children or finances). The immobility response or “freezing response” allows you to remain in a toxic situation enduring the stress and pain – waiting for the right moment to get rid of the distress. Often, the freezing response becomes a permanent part of your personality and the original trauma never heals.This is makes it difficult to talk, communicate or get closer to others because you are frozen up and it keeps you from experiencing deeper levels of love.
The bottom line is, it’s the build up of the effects of this “stress response” in your body, brain, and nervous system that we believe to be the culprit behind most of the emotional difficulties that people experience. Basically, you’ve reached a point where certain things are triggering a pattern of neurological impulses in your body to fire off over and over again. These reactions occur within 1/3 of a sec before you can even consciously think about what to do next – you find yourself emotionally overreacting, avoiding or numbing out.
“ So can’t I just take drugs to correct my brain chemistry?”
That’s obviously one option, but it’s got some clear disadvantages—the biggest one being simply that unless you restore your body’s ability to self-regulate brain chemistry properly on it’s own, you’re stuck taking drugs the rest of your life.
“Ok, so what’s a better option?”
That’s where EDMR comes in. EMDR is the best approach I’ve found for changing emotional reactions, negative thought patterns, and entrenched habits (and often times even physical discomfort) that people can’t just “think themselves out of.” EMDR had given us the ability to essentially reverse all of those negative patterns that have developed in your brain, body, and nervous system.
There are actually two key elements of EDMT treatment. The first is something called “bilateral stimulation”—which just means “two-sided stimulation.” You probably know that your brain has a right hemisphere and a left hemisphere and that each side of your body is “hard-wired” to a specific side of your brain. Creating a rhythmic, back and forth stimulation of each hemisphere of the brain seems to stimulate something we call the “information processing system” to go into a highly accelerated mode of functioning—which is exactly the treatment effect we have to create to get the results we’re after. There are several different methods that have been developed for creating the “bilateral stimulation” effect.
The second key element of EMDR treatment is sort of the “art and science” of how I have to prompt and guide you while we’re doing the bilateral stimulations. I’ll explain this in more detail to you, but in a nutshell how I do this will be determined by a number of factors individual to your unique situation.
The end result of EMDR treatment is to reduce and eliminate negative thoughts and feelings, and to enable you to really be at your best in your everyday life.
“I thought EMDR was designed for treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and I’ve never been through anything particularly traumatic…so how will it help my issues?”
According to the December 2005 Harvard Mental Health Letter (“Post Traumatic Stress without Trauma”): Experience not usually regarded as traumatic can cause the characteristics symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder.
Surprisingly, life events (such as relationship problems, work problems, financial problems, school problems, health problems, significant losses or life changes) were as likely traumatic events to cause symptoms typical of post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, people whose worst event was not traumatic had more post-traumatic stress symptoms for a longer time than those whose worse event was traumatic (freeze response).
The authors suggest that life events may increase overall psychological stress and distress, bringing on symptoms related to an earlier trauma.
Traumatic events may reduce the ability to cope with other kinds of stress. Both traumatic experiences and overall distress may increase the risk of developing post-traumatic symptoms after either a traumatic experience or a non-traumatic life event
“Is EMDR something like hypnosis?”
EMDR is very different than hypnosis in three important ways:
In EMDR you don’t go into any kind of “altered state”—you’re totally aware of what is going on, you’re totally in control of the process, and it’s nothing that somebody is doing to you—it’s your brain that’s doing the work; EMDR is simply a catalyst for speeding up the benefits you get from psychotherapy
EMDR does not have the capacity to create false memories.
EMDR is not at all dependent on the placebo effect—in other words somebody can totally be convinced that it’s not going to work and it still works as just as well, because it’s purely a biophysical process (it’s the biggest skeptics that I have the most fun with when we first start doing EMDR, because they’re the most surprised at how well it works!).
“How well researched and scientifically proven is EMDR?”
For detailed answers to that question, I would encourage you to go to www.emdr.com/studies.htm , but here’s a few quick answers:
EMDR has been judged as empirically validated and given a rating
of “highest level of effectiveness” in numerous international practice
guidelines including The American Psychiatric Association Guidelines.
In September of 2000 EMDR was accepted by the management of the Vanderbilt University Mental Health Center in Nashville (a division of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center) as one of only three acceptable treatment methods for their seriously and mentally ill patients. This acceptance was influenced by one clinician, Jan Stadtlander, LCSW, who has been using EMDR with her patients for seven years and achieving remarkable results with them.
EMDR is the most researched psychotherapy method for PTSD.
There are more controlled studies that have evaluated the effectiveness of EMDR in the treatment of PTSD than any other method.
As of 2002, more than 20 controlled outcomes studies of EMDR have already been published and/or presented. These studies all have found EMDR superior to the control division on measures of PTSD, with EMDR using fewer treatment sessions to achieve effects. Follow up studies at intervals up to 5 years after treatment have indicated a high level of maintenance of treatment.
EMDS is on American Psychological Association Division of Clinical Psychology’s list of empirically validated methods. Only two other methods are even on this list for the treatment of PTSD.
The international Society for Traumatic Stress Studies has stated that EMDR is an “effective treatment.”
The United Kingdom Department of Health has listed EMDR as an effective treatment.
EMDR is endorsed by the American Red Cross, the FBI, the international Critical Incident Stress Management Foundation, and Major HMO’s such as Kaiser and Value Options.
EMDR courses are being taught in over 30 colleges and universities, and it is part of standard treatment in many VA hospitals.
David V. Baldwin, PH.D., a licensed psychologist in Eugene, OR (email:firstname.lastname@example.org) has compiled a current list of published journal articles on EMDR. As of 2001 he already had 238 articles on his list.
EMDR was used extensively to treat survivors in the after math of 9-11 and the Oklahoma City bombing.
New research presented in the fall of 2003 in Chicago by Dr. Bessel A van der Kolk, M.D. is showing EMDR to be more effective that the SSRI’s (drugs like Prozac and Zoloft). (Dr. van der Kolk is Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University Medical School, Clinical Director of the trauma Center at HRI Hospital in Brookline, Massachusetts, and past president of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS). He has taught at universities and hospitals across the United States and around the world, including Europe, Africa, Russia, Australia, Israel, and China. He has been active as clinician researcher and teacher in the area of stress since the 1970’s. He has published extensively on the impact on stress on human development, and his book Psychological Trauma was the first integrative text on the subject. His latest book explores what we have learned in the past 20 years about the role of stress in psychiatric illness, and his current research is on brain imaging and how stress affects memory process)
“If EMDR is so great why have I never heard of it before?”
EMDR has actually received a great deal of media attention the last few years. Segments have been run on shows like Dateline and 20/20 spotlighting the extraordinary speed and effectiveness of EMDR. The truth is, though, that no psychotherapy method could ever compete with the millions of advertising dollars spent each year by pharmaceutical companies marketing their drugs to doctors and general public.
A similar question I often get is, “If EMDR is so great why are there not more EMDR therapist around here?” In places like California and New York there are literally thousands of EMDR therapists (for a complete listing please visit EMDR.org).
“How much experience do you have using EMDR?”
I have used EMDR in many, many of hours in clinical work as well as consulting work.
“Why do you like EMDR so much?”
Prior to being trained in EMDR, I have spent 27 years doing traditional work based on many treatment modalities. Simply put, I’ve just never seen anything that works as rapidly, effectively, easily, and permanently as EMDR.
“So how quickly can I expect to reach my treatment goals?”
That depends on a number of variables unique to your own personal situation, but here are some generalities:
From what I’ve seen in working with clients, people seem to progress about four times as fast with EMDR than with any form of treatment I’ve eve seen.
After our first EMDR session, I’ll be able to answer that question a lot more specifically, because I should have a pretty clear indication of how rapidly your body and nervous system are responding. That’s one thing I really like about EMDR—the changes occur so rapidly that most people start noticing positive benefits right from the very first session.
You can speed up the space of our progress by sticking as closely as possible to good lifestyle guidelines—getting on a consistent sleep schedule, using the abdominal breathing, getting a little exercise a day, drinking lots of water, eating “clean”, controlling carbohydrate intake, avoiding use of chemical depressants (like alcohol and marijuana), and restricting use of chemical stimulants (like caffeine & nicotine).
“Could our EMDR work accidentally change something I don’t really want to change?”
No, the really interesting thing about your brain is that it came “pre-programmed” to automatically do what you want it to do—it just has to be stimulated correctly! EMDR seems to help your brain get rid of what you don’t want and need, and actually strengthen what you do want and need. It will not take away anything useful for you, and it will not change anything you don’t want to change (I often have parents bringing in their teenagers to me asking to use EMDR to change this or that, and I have to break the news to them that unless their son or daughters wants to change, it doesn’t really work like that!)
“Are there any possible negative side effects of EMDR treatment?”
Only two that anybody’s been able to identify:
EMDR has a tendency to make bad memories seem very distant or neutral, so if we’re dealing with something that you’re going to have to testify in court, we’re going to want to talk to your attorney about the possible implications of your treatment (you may end up being a lousy witness!).
EMDR has the ability to bring back a memory strongly enough so that you may momentarily have the same intensity of emotion that you had at the time the event was occurring. Because of that I use EMDR very strategically, this happens very rarely with my clients—the vast majority of them find our work to be very gentle, calming, and relaxing. If it were to occur, I would always take the time to help you get to a better place with it before you leave my office—my goal is to always to leave people walking out feeling better that when they walked in! The possibility, though, does bring up three important issues:
It’s extremely important that during our history taking that you tell me about any significant traumas you’ve experienced.
If you are in recovery for any form of addiction and “strong feelings” are one of your triggers, I would encourage you to be very aggressive about “working your program” and make sure you have a good relapse prevention plan in place.
If you have any fears or concerns about getting “overwhelmed” by feelings, please let me know about this. Before we even start our EMDR work I’ll give you some “emotional management” tools so you don’t have to be afraid of feeling your feelings anymore.
“Are the results of EMDR sustainable – I have been this way for so long and I am concerned that the results wont stick.”
For the moment, think about being really mad at your friend for having stood you up for a Lunch. You sit and wait, try to call him but he does not answer his phone. You remember that he stood you up 6 months ago, and he has a pattern of over committing himself… you begin to stew and start questioning your friendship.
The next day you find out that he had an accident on the way to your Lunch meeting.
Notice, how your upset and questioning your friendship immediately gives way to compassion and concern over his wellbeing. The anger is gone in seconds when new data offers a different explanation for him not showing up…
The same thing happens during EMDR – when you reprocess events from the past or old, outdated beliefs about yourself (I am not smart enough – I felt humiliated in 2nd grade when the whole class laughed at me). The moment your neuro network identifies that the event is in the past, contradicts your accomplishments now, or that you misunderstood what had happened, a negative belief about yourself collapses within minutes – and never has the same power over you again.
“What kind of problem should I bring up in my first session?”
Here are some questions that help you get focused:
What would you like to be able to do that you feel like you can’t do right now (i.e. stand up in confrontations, ask for what I want, show anger appropriately, express my love to others, seeing possibilities, balancing my life)?
What would you like to stop doing that you are doing right now (i.e. using distractions, overeating, drug and alcohol use, overworking, sexual jealousy, emotional overreacting, negative thinking, worrying)
How would you like to be relating and interacting with other people – or any particular person (i.e. being less judgmental, listening better, having good boundaries, speaking the truth, have my heart open)?
What do you feel like is hurting or limiting you the most in your professional performance (i.e. not asking for a raise, unfair performance review, laid off, bad experiences with boss, being talked over, being audited or legal investigation)?
When looking back, is there anything that has you cringe and that you rather not think about it (i.e. feeling embarrassed, ashamed, guilty, humiliated)?
Do you have any regrets – anything that you would like to erase from your life (i.e. mistake, failure, ugly confrontation, investigation, divorce)?
Have you encountered anything that you are afraid might repeat itself – or witnessed in other people’s lives (i.e. parent’s bankruptcy, miscarriage, getting fired or laid off, betrayed by others, accidents, nature disaster, infidelity)