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EMDR Therapy, A Powerful Tool in Healing Trauma

Would you like to know more about EMDR therapy at Steady Hope Counseling?

Trauma Therapist supporitng a client

As counselors, I (we) see the impact of trauma on peoples’ lives all too often. Trauma comes in many forms, from a single, horrific event to a series of smaller, negative experiences. Regardless of the specifics, trauma can leave us feeling stuck, with negative emotions, intrusive memories, and unhealthy coping mechanisms holding us back.


A simple definition of trauma taken from some of the leading researchers (Bessel Van Der Kolk and Peter Levine): Trauma occurs when a person’s natural threat response is activated in their body, but their ability to cope becomes overwhelmed and ultimately stuck in a hyper/hypo vigilant mode.


Many events could be categorized as traumatic and they may range from big T to little t trauma. As Key Counseling notes in their blog about trauma, trauma is more common than we think. Many of us will experience a range of experiences that could be considered traumatic. 


The good news? There is effective treatment available. One therapy that has become increasingly popular and well-researched is EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. 


I know that is a mouthful and such a long title, but EMDR truly is a really amazing tool that many of our counselors are trained to integrate into their therapeutic work.  


Side Note here: The longer I have been a practicing counselor, the more I realize just how young the field of psychology and counseling is - that we are still learning every day more about how the brain works, how our body stores and holds information, and effective tools to relieve discomfort. 


EMDR for example was developed in 1987, the same year I was born. I certainly don’t consider myself old; so that speaks to the fact that we as practitioners and those seeking counseling can find comfort in knowing that we are learning more everyday about how to support those experiencing pain and discomfort. 

Throughout the rest of this blog I want to take a few minutes to share more of the nitty gritty definition of EMDR and then provide a few examples of how I have seen it be effective. 


What is EMDR?


EMDR is an evidence-based therapy that can help people heal from trauma. It works by targeting the way our brains store memories. Traumatic experiences can become stuck in our minds, leading to ongoing emotional and physical distress. EMDR uses bilateral stimulation (such as eye movements, hand tapping, or auditory tones) to help reprocess these memories, reducing their emotional charge and allowing for a more healthy or adaptive perspective.  

EMDR is a phase-driven and structured form of therapy. In the main model of EMDR, there are eight phases that a counselor is moving the client through to re-process the memory/image. I will explain the eight phases a little more in detail in another section. 


The goal of EMDR isn’t that you never think about the event again or that you wouldn’t still say the event was difficult/hard. Rather, the goal is that the impact of the event feels less disturbing and produces less impact in our everyday life moving forward. For example, you might still say that you wish you hadn’t experienced neglect as a kid but the amount of day-to-day memories/nightmares can decrease when you complete EMDR. 


Turning Tide therapy explains on their website how this process of “trauma desensitization”  occurs during phase 2 initially but also during the whole duration of the eight-phase EMDR method. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes trauma desensitization this way: when the traumatic memory that has been reprocessed loses its vividness and emotional reaction. 



Teenager describes recent events to therapist


Who can benefit from EMDR?


EMDR is a powerful tool for treating PTSD, but it can also be helpful for a wide range of other issues related to trauma, including

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Phobias

  • Panic attacks

  • Dissociation

  • Pain

  • Grief


I was first trained in EMDR in 2016. Since that time, I have been able to utilize this as a tool with clients and experienced what EMDR is like on the receiving end. 

I have processed clients' childhood or adult trauma, anxiety, losing a job, divorce, fear of difficult situations happening, panic attacks, phobias, and so much more. 

I love how one of my clients described it. They said that prior to starting EMDR, the event/memory was like a piece of artwork that always needed to be on prominent display at the art gallery of images from their life. The event always dictated how the art was displayed and maybe took a front-and-center view. But then, as we utilized EMDR, the artwork piece didn’t need to be at the front of the gallery. The event was able to move down into the other hallways of life memories and snapshots. 


​The event was still a part of the person's story; it changed them in ways that likely wouldn’t have come without that event. However, the event wasn’t one of the first things that others saw, or the client thought about anymore.


My experience with EMDR personally was observing how much quicker than traditional talk therapy I seemed to be able to process an event and recognize a more “adaptive” way of viewing myself and the circumstance. At first, I found myself unsure how EMDR worked or if I was “doing it right” but with more practice and the support from a trained clinician I relaxed and allowed the method to help move through and re-process the experience. 


What is EMDR therapy like?


EMDR therapy typically involves several phases. In the beginning stages, we will focus on building a strong therapeutic relationship and establishing your internal resources for coping with difficult emotions. Then, we will identify a specific traumatic memory to target in EMDR processing. During this processing, you will focus on various aspects of the memory while engaging in bilateral stimulation.

It is important to remember that EMDR can be an emotional experience. However, it is also a safe and controlled environment where you are always in charge. We will work together at a pace that feels comfortable for you and you will gain many grounding and mindfulness tools to  use during session and outside of session. 


Whenever someone on our team is utilizing EMDR, we make sure that we pause the phase work early enough in session so that we close the session by using a grounding and containment tool as well as coaching you through what to do outside of session as the processing continues. 


In this graphic from EMDRIA, you can see the structure of the eight different phases of EMDR. 


Is EMDR right for me?


If you are struggling with the effects of trauma, EMDR could be a valuable tool in your healing journey. I encourage you to reach out to a therapist trained in EMDR to discuss if it might be a good fit for you. There are also many resources available online from organizations like the EMDR International Association (https://www.emdria.org/).


Healing from trauma takes time and courage. But with the right support, you can move forward and live a fulfilling life. Our team of trained therapists in Decatur (metro Atlanta) can provide therapy services in person and online. We can provide virtual therapy to anyone residing in the state of Georgia. To learn more about our therapists or to get started, fill out our contact form to schedule a free 15-minute consultation. 


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