Many of my clients will report “feeling stuck.” The feeling keeps them from reaching their goals or engaging others authentically in their relationships. They are unable to trace these feelings back to any significant life event. They report symptoms of anxiety, inability to concentrate, restlessness, low self esteem, and other common mental health issues that are seen regularly in therapy practices. In talk therapy we may spend months, if not years, talking about the symptoms with minimal results. We may even identify a past experience that triggers the current feelings. However being able to identify the root may not be enough to relieve the current symptoms.
Using the EMDR approach in therapy we target the experience. Using the eight phase structure we reprocess the past experience to alleviate the current symptoms. The neural networks associated with the memory are “cleaned” and the appropriate, healthy associations are made.
Most of the literature on EMDR focuses on the impact of significant trauma or the resolution of post traumatic stress disorder. There is limited discussion on the benefits of the EMDR approach to resolve issues related to “lesser” traumas.
These small “insignificant” moments are the ones that in EMDR lingo we refer to as little “t” traumas. These are events that we tell ourselves are no big deal and that we should be able to let roll off our back. These events may include not being invited to a birthday party at age 8, not being asked to play during recess, messing up a classroom presentation, or a million miscues we experienced from our parents. When these events are not processed appropriately they becoming blocking events. In the addiction field we talk about how a client is delayed developmentally by the drugs that they abuse. The EMDR approach is very similar. The Adaptive Information Processing Model (AIP) indicates that when we are unable to process an experience appropriately it becomes locked in our neural networks in such a manner that it impacts the processing or flow of new material. Essentially we start collecting a lot of dust on our mind’s lens.
Using the 8 phase structure and the use of eye movements and other bi-lateral stimulation the material is reprocessed and the lens is cleaned. The effect is not just to the past material but generalizes to future events. Clients who enter therapy to work on these “stuck” moments are pleasantly surprised by the speed in which they feel better.
It should go without saying that for clients working a 12-Step program of recovery, EMDR is an adjunct, complimentary therapy and not a substitute. EMDR can help people get to the next level.