EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, Brainspotting

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a method of therapy for dealing with unresolved trauma and distressing life events that often produces more rapid results than traditional talk therapy. EMDR is used to treat a variety of problems, including:

  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Fears
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Physical Abuse
  • Emotional Abuse
  • Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse or Neglect
  • Adult Relationship Trauma
  • Betrayal Trauma
  • Unresolved Family of Origin Issues
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Disturbing Memories
  • Performance Anxiety
  • Unresolved Grief
  • Stress Management

EMDR can be beneficial for treating trauma associated with single, overwhelming life events or the more chronic, repetitive types of trauma that occur in our relationships, such as developmental, attachment or betrayal trauma.

Single Event TraumasRepetitive Relationship Trauma
  • Rape Trauma
  • Crime Victimization
  • Natural Disasters such as fires, floods, earthquakes, etc.
  • Car wrecks
  • Marriage Betrayal (e.g., lies, affairs
  • Abandonment Issues
  • Divorce Recovery
  • Relationship Violence
  • Exposure to Chronic Violence

Although the exact neurobiological mechanisms associated with EMDR’s success are still being researched, the therapy appears to tap into the healing power of your own body by helping the creative (right hemisphere) and analytical (left hemisphere) sides of the brain to communicate more effectively. It does this by using what is called bilateral stimulation, which is a fancy name for stimulation of the alternating sides of your brain. It’s kind of like helping you to rock back and forth between the right and left hemispheres of your brain. The bilateral stimulation results in a release of the negative emotion that is attached to the unresolved trauma.

Some examples of bilateral stimulation used in EMDR are moving the eyes from side to side by focusing on an object or light, alternating tapping of the hands, sounds in alternating ears with a set of headphones, or any combination of these.

Disturbing experiences are stored in the brain with all the sights, sounds, thoughts, and feelings that accompanied them. When you become very upset, your brain is unable to process the experience as it would normally. The negative thoughts and feelings connected to the disturbing event have become trapped in your nervous system. Since your brain cannot process these emotions, the experience and the associated feelings may be kept from conscious awareness. The distress, however, lives on in your nervous system and causes disturbances in your emotional functioning.

EMDR unlocks the negative memories and emotions stored in your nervous system and then helps your brain successfully process the experience so that the memory is re-experienced in a new, less distressing way. The memory remains, but the intense negative response is neutralized and anxiety and depression associated with the memory can heal.

You will probably spend 2-4 sessions providing background information and identifying specific memories or issues to target during the desensitization procedure, before moving on to a brief phase of establishing positive resources and coping behaviors that you can use during and after the EMDR.

If you are used to more traditional therapies, EMDR may seem quite different. This is because it avoids the long, drawn out talk therapy approach that can inadvertently reinforce staying stuck on specific aspects of your trauma, and in doing so actually blocks the moving through and processing of traumatic memories. If distressing thoughts, feelings, and body sensations arise, you will be directed to notice briefly and then allow the bilateral stimulation to move you on through it. You won’t need to spend a lot of time describing or trying to control your reactions. You will neither stuff your emotions, nor be overwhelmed by them. Instead they will simply transform as your brain and body work together toward your own healing.

The red areas indicate over-activity in the brain.

Brain of a female with PTSD.
Brain of the same female after 4 EMDR sessions.

EMDR is considered an evidenced-based treatment. This means that there are research studies that show that treatments with EMDR result in reduction or elimination of the targeted emotion or memory.

The Feeling-State Addiction Protocol (FSAP) for sex or pornography addiction is a new form of EMDR that is based on the Feeling-State Theory of Addiction. This theory presumes that the onset of sex or pornography addiction begins with an event in which the sensations, emotions, thoughts and behaviors result in a positive, pleasurable, or intense experience that locks that experience in memory. The feeling state associated with that memory becomes fixed and the addicted individual then attempts to replicate the intensity of that experience. The quest for the feeling state may operate at an unconscious level or become less obvious over time. FSAP is used to identify and disconnect the feeling state from the addictive behavior. FSAP is typically followed by traditional EMDR to help the individual reconnect the feeling state with more adaptive, healthier behaviors.

Attachment Focused-EMDR may be beneficial to clients who have experienced chronic relational and attachment trauma. AF-EMDR includes methods to help integrate attachment repair in the course of EMDR. Utilizing advancement in understanding attachment, AF-EMDR addressing early attachment wounds, particularly those associated with abuse and neglect using the power of traditional EMDR and reparative visualization and imaginational interweaves.

Yes. EMDR is one of our staples for our trauma healing intensives. Our team has found EMDR particularly useful in helping those who feel ‘stuck’ in their therapeutic work take a leap forward. Our team can work with your regular therapist before and after intensives to

If you would like to learn more about how EMDR might be helpful to you, please contact us.

Therapists who treat trauma have long known that “the body remembers” trauma. In fact, if you have ever felt triggered then you know that the body is activated when your hot button is pushed, even if you’re not really sure what the button is about or how it got pushed.

Like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing (SE) works with your natural brain-body processes to promote healing. It is a naturalistic therapy for releasing the unresolved Big TLittle t, developmental and relational trauma that is stored in your body.

Somatic Experiencing was developed as a therapy for healing trauma by Dr. Peter Levine, an internationally recognized expert on trauma, stress consultant for NASA during the space shuttle development, and 2010 recipient of the Lifetime-Achievement award from the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy. SE is often a slower, gentler method of deactivation trauma and restoring a healthier balance in your mind, body, and spirit.

Somatic Experiencing works by bypassing the higher cognitive centers of the brain and working with sensations that are associated with the primitive part of the brain by way of the Autonomic Nervous System. It works directly with the trauma brain reactions, using body awareness and body sensations to gently and gradually release the emotion and energy from those body memories.

Unlike EMDR, which may target the worst part of the trauma first, Somatic Experiencing works from the outside edges inward to the core of the trauma. While the pace may be slower than with EMDR, the discharge and release of the traumatic activation from your nervous system can be very powerful. With this release your nervous system can return to equilibrium and healing can take place.

Polyvagal theory, proposed by Stephen Porges, is considered to be one of the foundations of trauma resolution, particularly for complex trauma and is one of the cornerstones of Somatic Experiencing. Polyvagal theory explains how our Autonomic Nervous System functions in healthy and traumatized states. Trauma is not a stationary event – it lives in our nervous system and can change the way it functions. The main highway involved in the brain-body nervous system connection is the vagus nerve. Somatic Experiencing Practitioners use knowledge of vagal brain-body connection to help your nervous system move into a healthier level of functioning.

To learn more about Somatic Experiencing®, contact us.

Brainspotting (BSP) is a cousin to both Somatic Experiencing and EMDR. BSP is the new kid on the block for treating a variety of issues, including trauma and addiction. It works by accessing and activating points on the visual field where memories associated with trauma, emotional distress and physical reactivity are stored in the brain. BSP then facilitates metabolization and release of the unprocessed trauma in the subcortical brain.

Professionals trained in Brainspotting work with a client’s fixed eye gaze patterns that are linked to specific ‘brainspots’ associated with such things as traumatic memories. BSP can be seamlessly integrated to therapeutic sessions to address Big T and little t trauma. It can also be used to identify and address hidden wounds that trigger addiction. Like EMDR and Somatic Experiencing, BSP accesses the mind-body connection, but does so by using the visual field-brainspot association to unlock trauma in in deepest parts of the brain, the subcortex and brainstem. BSP can be used to relieve a variety of emotional and physical symptoms.

To learn more about Brainspotting, contact us.

SSP is a research-based, polyvagal theory informed program that was developed by trauma expert Dr. Stephen Porges. SSP can augment and accelerate progress in your therapy and recovery efforts. The protocol is designed to reduce stress, while enhancing resilience and fostering greater balance in your nervous system. As a result, you are better able to interpret meaning and intent in communication with others, leading to an enriched felt sense of safety and calming in your own physiological state. In essence, SSP fosters greater capacity for connection with yourself and others.

SSP involves a total of 5 hours of listening to a specially processed music designed to nourish the relationship between your nervous system and social-emotional processes. This auditory intervention can be administered in 1-hour increments over 5 consecutive days. The SSP protocol can be administered in person or remotely.

To learn more about Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP), contact us.

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