abstract image of a brain against a purple background

How Does EMDR Work In The Brain?

If someone were to tell you that they were going to therapy, you’d likely picture meaningful discussions in an office. That is often the case but therapy is far more diverse than that. For example, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) incorporates hand and finger movements by the therapist with eye movements performed by the client.

This unusual but highly effective method is used to treat a broad spectrum of issues and disorders — post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), disordered eating, and more. EMDR requires relatively few sessions and has long-lasting positive effects. But, you might be wondering, how do hand and eye movements do all that?

How Does EMDR Work?

Let’s first break down the basic framework in a nutshell. The hand, finger, and eye movements are found to include a state that is similar to REM sleep. In this state, the person can access negative memories, patterns, and thoughts without getting triggered. It is as if they are slightly dissociated from sensations that they’d typically avoid. A detached connection to distressing emotions sets the stage for those memories to be processed and then replaced with positive imagery and ideas.

But what’s going on in your brain

How Does EMDR Work In The Brain?

Research has consistently shown EMDR to work. As for the specifics of what it does in the brain to make this happen, it has not been fully pinpointed. However, the concept of “bilateral stimulation” seems to be the entry point. Some crucial points to consider:

  • In a typical setting, the left side of your brain is designed to soothe the right side during and after a bad or traumatic experience. If this doesn’t happen, distorted thought patterns happen.
  • When an EMDR therapist has you follow their rapid finger movements with your eyes, both hemispheres of your brain are stimulated. This is called bilateral stimulation.
  • Bilateral stimulation allows you to leapfrog the blockage in your brain and thus, the left side can support the right side. Finally, the confusing or disturbing belief is processed in a healthy manner.
  • Bilateral stimulation also makes your brain very receptive to positive input. This is encouraged during EMDR as a way to “replace” counterproductive thinking patterns.
  • The brain is thereby returned to its factory setting, so to speak.

abstract image of a brain against a purple backgroundSo, What’s Exactly Happening in the Brain During EMDR?

Neuroplasticity is a word used to describe how new pathways can be created in the brain. Keep in mind that being stuck in neural pathways is what makes it so hard for you to heal. A repetitive treatment like EMDR can enable the brain to change. Therefore, it can also enable the creation of new emotions and perspectives. Think of it as rewriting the negative, feeling-stuck script that went into effect somewhere in your path. The repeated hand and eye movements encourage the brain to start processing the past until it is resolved.

Why You Should Consider EMDR

Now that you have a peek at what EMDR does to your brain, you might be wondering if it’s the right choice for you. Here are a few more good reasons to learn more:

  • EMDR has been shown to be effective in no more than 8 to 20 sessions.
  • Follow-up studies show that clients who underwent EMDR treatment continue to recover even after those 8 to 20 sessions are done.
  • Outside of some vivid dreams and memories in the early phases of treatment, EMDR has consistently shown little to no side effects.

Do you have debilitating memories or thought patterns of any kind? If so, it would behoove you to find out more about EMDR therapy. I’d love to talk with you soon.

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