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EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a structured neuroscience-based therapy developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro to process distressing memories and experiences, usually connected to trauma. Currently, EMDR therapy is also used to treat distressing memories and experiences related to other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance use.

How does it work?

When we experience distress, our brains and bodies help us to cope by engaging our arousal systems to fight, flee, or freeze (or collapse) during the situation. When one experiences trauma, our memories of the event often get stored in our brains in fragments. Through an Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model, EMDR helps the brain to utilize its natural healing process using bilateral eye movements to process the intensity and vividness of the distressing memory, emotions, experiences, and/or thought processes. Specifically, the processing utilizes the amygdala (primitive part of the brain involved with experiencing of emotions), the hippocampus (center of emotions, memory, and autonomic nervous system which helps with learning), thalamus (takes in information from our senses and helps with understanding our experiences), and medial prefrontal cortex (helps us with self-experience and regulation, and processing of information). During a traumatic event, these areas of the brain become dysregulated, and neuro-connections get disrupted, thus memories of that event become unintegrated. EMDR can help process these memories to help integrate the fragmented parts into a coherent and cohesive narrative through learning more adaptive state and processing the components of the memory.

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