EMDR is a form of therapy where the client uses visualization to revisit past events and draw new interpretations about the event. These new interpretations result in new freedom for interpretations of self, the world and future events.

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The Mechanics of EMDR


We are the original computers. Our brains store memories by linking like with like. A person’s frown that follows with gnashed teeth and a fist, becomes stored. New events that show a glimpse of this type of angry, frustrated expression and gesture become associated with the earlier event. Think of learning driving directions or learning what a fire alarm is. We have resources that enable us to draw conclusions without needing to relearn the new information. It is our storage system that makes this expediency possible. Sometimes our storage system works against us. If we mistake a child happily singing for a police siren right by us, our reactions would be extreme. Trauma survivors have overworking storage systems. When these systems are activated and a flight or fight mentality is awakened by our hearts beating overtime, our struggle to catch our breath, the involuntary avoidance of eye-contact and pressured speech. favorably. Now, through self-fulfilling prophecy, there is another shaming situation to add to storage. In these types of cases which are constants in daily life, it is the storage and not the present event that is ruining one’s life. EMDR treats the storage, making it possible and probable that the person will treat each new situation as just that – a new situation- that may have aspects of a historical one, but regardless, is something manageable.

Stops on the Train Line

Memories are linked together on lines just like stops are linked together on trains, with each train line having its own set territory. This linking works well as we no longer need to learn when a tree is a tree or a coffee mug is a coffee mug. However, linking works very – un-well – when we react to new events with old adrenalin levels… when we block old punches in real time. EMDR begins by the patient and therapist determining which memory to target. Ideally, the earliest memory possible works best, because once the memory network changes, the memories of events that happened after will also be altered. Next, is a visualization process done in sets. Each set involves the client allowing a past image to viewed – revisited, while eyes are shut and the past image plays out, like a movie.

It is also okay to start with an event in the present. The mechanics of eye movement impacting personal psychology was discovered accidentally and with a present-day focus, not past. The creator of EMDR, Francine Shapiro was walking through the park thinking about issues that she was dealing with surrounding her study of psychology and her personal life. As her eyes followed the movements around her, including the pigeons, she noticed a shifting in that her distress level was decreasing. Experimenting with friends by prompting each to think about a current issue while following her finger with their eyes were the very first baby steps of what was to mature into becoming Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing.

Past, Present and Future

“Changing the memories that form the way we see ourselves also changes the way we view others. Therefore, our relationships, job performance, what we are willing to do or are able to resist, all move in a positive direction.”

– Francine Shapiro, Creator of EMDR and author of
Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy

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