Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that isn’t really you.”

  • Paulo Coelho
Kasi is an EMDR trained clinician through EMDRIA.
EMDR uses eye movement to help with bilateral stimulation.  processing traumatic memories with eye movement. EMDR available online and in Kitchener, ON

EMDR (or more formally, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a type of psychotherapy that is highly effective in treating PTSD and traumatic memories. From car accidents to sexual assault to childhood trauma, EMDR helps individuals to no longer feel overwhelmed by these disturbing events. EMDR is different from your conventional talk therapy (which may feel like a relief for those who have tried traditional therapies and felt stuck!) 

How does EMDR work? 

When traumatic events happen, we are not able to process them because they are so jarring to our system. Our minds can only take in so many details and also try to survive through the moment. Once the event is done, you may have a hard time understanding it, feel overwhelmed by it, or struggle to recall details properly. This is because these memories are not properly stored in our long-term memory.

During EMDR, a therapist guides a client to think about a traumatic memory in a specific pattern of brief recollection while using bilateral stimulations (BLS). BLS involves focusing on an external object (e.g. eye movements, tapping) and engaging your left brain and right brain (e.g. your eyes move to the left, then they move to the right, and then back to the left).

When you process a memory in this manner, your brain will jump around to various memories, thoughts, and emotions. It will find connections between the original traumatic event and its later impacts on your life (e.g. how that event has affected your beliefs later in life). EMDR considers a memory to be fully “cleared” when an individual no longer feels emotionally distressed by the traumatic event, and the beliefs about him/her/themselves is shifted to a more positive stance. 

What does an EMDR session look like?

#1 History Intake and Creating a Plan

creating treatment plan for EMDR. targeting traumatic memories. planning for EMDR.

The first step in EMDR is to get to know you. We talk about a variety of different topics to better understand what has influenced you and your trauma. For example, we look at the people you grew up with, your experiences in school and work, and the impact of race, religion and other social factors. This step can take a session, or it can take multiple sessions depending on the complexities of hardships you have survived. Once history has been gathered, we then discuss a treatment plan. What would you like to process? What earlier memories may influence your treatment? It’s valuable to go in chronological order. If you clear earlier traumatic memories, they won’t influence later events.

#2 Preparation

During this stage of EMDR, we will work together to create some grounding practices. EMDR is used with individuals with severe and complex trauma. However, we want to process traumatic events safely without overwhelming you. It’s important to stay within your window of tolerance. Some examples of grounding techniques include deep breathing, mindfulness skills, and visualization strategies.

#3 Assessment

The third stage of EMDR is selecting a “target”, or a specific memory, to process. When you’re just starting EMDR, it’s best to chose a memory that is mildly distressing (even though there may be parts of you that are eager to work with the worst case situation). This is because, to do the work safely, it’s important to build your EMDR muscle. I want you to feel confident in picking up a 10 pound dumbbell before asking you to lift 200 pounds.

#4 Reprocessing

processing traumatic memories. PTSD therapy. EMDR to help with trauma recovery.

The next steps in EMDR involve actively processing the traumatic events. In these appointments, you will be using BLS while focusing on the traumatic memory. You will notice a shift in your distress level and the ways in which you are thinking of yourself in this memory. Once the memory no longer creates distress, we move into strengthening a positive belief with that memory (For example: It’s over, I’m safe now. I am lovable. I am okay just the way I am. I can stand up for myself.) Finally, we assess that your body is no longer feeling triggered by the memory.

#5 Closing

The memory is considered ‘cleared’ or complete, when you no longer feel triggered by it. This means, you are not distressed when you think of the event. You hold positive beliefs about yourself in relation to that memory. And, your body feels calm when thinking of that trauma. We re-visit this memory at later appointments to ensure that the re-processing has had lasting effects.

Can I use EMDR and Online Therapy?

Online therapy. EMDR is effective through online counselling. Processing trauma through online support.

The pandemic has shifted the counselling world to be very accessible online. EMDR can be effectively done online and from the comforts of your own home. I use a platform called RemotEMDR with online counselling appointments. RemotEMDR provides audio cues and eye movement options for bilateral stimulation.

Learn more

©Donna Roe Daniell

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