EMDR & Brainspotting Therapy
What Is Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a therapeutic treatment used to process difficult, traumatic, or negative memories.
When we experience something stressful and/or shocking, our bodies not only hold onto difficult emotions and associations; they store the uncomfortable physical sensations that were associated with the experience. Through EMDR treatment, the memory is reprocessed and stored in a way that strips it of its dysfunctional effects and adverse sensations.
In essence, body-based therapies like EMDR and Brainspotting can help you establish a sense of peace and control over your emotional response to past pains and wounding experiences.
The History & Efficacy Of EMDR
The psychologist Francine Shapiro is the founder and developer of EMDR. Working with clients in therapy who experienced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Shapiro started recognizing a relationship between rapid eye movement and processing stored trauma. In the mid-1980s, she began researching and developing a new approach that allowed clients to meaningfully reprocess traumatic memories through side-to-side eye movements, tapping, and sounds—otherwise known as bilateral stimulation.
Since then, Shapiro herself has trained thousands of clinicians in this modality, with the treatment undergoing rigorous clinical trials throughout the 80s and 90s to become an evidence-based approach. Today, EMDR is recognized as a leading trauma treatment by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (USVA), the Department of Defense (USDOD), and a number of international organizations, including the U.K.’s Institute for Health Care and Excellence as well as the World Health Organization (WHO).
However, EMDR is not only accepted as a treatment for trauma specifically—it’s been demonstrated to help children, teens, and adults alike in addressing a wide range of challenges. Alongside stress- and trauma-related issues, EMDR has been used to treat anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, depression, chronic illness and medical issues, dissociation, eating disorders, grief and loss, addiction, and other conditions.
How Does EMDR Work?
Typically, our normal, “regular” memories are processed through the brain’s prefrontal cortex. But when something highly traumatic, stressful, or emotionally activating happens, the nervous system goes haywire. Instead of being properly stored, these memories are processed through the amygdala, or the brain’s fear system, where they often become “stuck,” perpetuating the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response even long after the traumatic experience has taken place.
A therapist using EMDR recreates the body’s natural processing mechanisms, taking the painful memory and any negative associations that accompany it, so the trauma can be processed in a healthy way. Bilateral stimulation is achieved through visual, auditory, or touch (tapping) cues that mimic the body’s REM cycle. Using this movement, the highly structured EMDR protocol, and by challenging the negative cognitions and self-beliefs that have developed from the traumatic memory, pain and distress can be effectively neutralized. Coping and stabilization techniques are also taught to support the process.
There is no requirement to talk through traumatic experiences in EMDR treatment; instead, clients are exposed to tolerable portions of traumatic content in very controlled, safe ways. Though talk therapy is helpful in supporting EMDR protocol, many people find the EMDR process less intimidating and uncomfortable than other talk therapy methods.
What Is Brainspotting Treatment And How Does It Differ From EMDR Therapy?
Brainspotting is an offshoot of EMDR developed by Dr. David Grand, who was a practitioner of EMDR. Grand noticed that clients naturally focused on a specific spot when targeting certain painful or traumatic memories. From there, he developed Brainspotting in the early 2000s.
Like EMDR, Brainspotting is a nonverbal alternative to talk therapy. Instead of using bilateral stimulation, Brainspotting relies on a fixed eye position. The “Brainspot” is where the eyes naturally focus when working through trauma and getting grounded in the body, thereby tapping into the brain’s innate healing qualities, reducing anxiety, and targeting some of the same issues as EMDR.
Considered slightly gentler than EMDR, Brainspotting is beneficial for clients who may be overstimulated or intimidated by EMDR’s structured protocol. What Brainspotting lacks in structure, it makes up for in greater speed and flexibility. Both EMDR and Brainspotting can be used in conjunction with other therapies. And both methods use the body’s built-in healing mechanisms to facilitate a change in perspective and more neutral or positive associations with adverse experiences.
We Are Pleased To Offer Both EMDR Therapy & Brainspotting At Bay Area Mental Health
As trauma-informed clinicians, we are committed to providing our clients with safe, gentle therapeutic techniques that can transform their pain into possibility. We recognize how much potential body-based methods have in offering our clients lasting change, healing, and relief. And we have counselors on staff who are trained and certified in both EMDR therapy and Brainspotting.
Depending on your primary goals for therapy and which BAMH therapist you work with, we are likely to incorporate other approaches into EMDR and Brainspotting to further enhance treatment. Before getting started with either method, you will be given concrete coping skills to combat feelings of overwhelm if and when they arise during your session. We may also incorporate “parts work” (as it relates to Internal Family Systems, or IFS), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and psychodynamic therapy to help create some comfortable distance between you and your trauma.
More than anything, we are here to provide you with support and an empathetic ear as you tackle some of your life’s most difficult and/or transformational experiences. As you begin to take control over your stress and trauma response in treatment, you will naturally build your self-esteem and confidence to address all of life’s challenges. And we would be honored to partner with you on your healing journey.
You Can Heal And Overcome The Effects Of Trauma
At Bay Area Mental Health, we incorporate Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and Brainspotting into treatment for clients struggling with:
Trauma-related issues or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Anxiety, phobias, and panic attacks
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Grief and loss
Other mood disorders
To find out more about how we can help or to schedule an appointment with one of our EMDR/Brainspotting therapists, please contact us.