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Is EMDR therapy safe? have risks? Where can I find professionals who perform?

When we’re not feeling well, we usually attribute that feeling to current events. We then try to “improve” by looking for something that alleviates the discomfort and helps us to be able to deal with the problems, as in the case of medication; or not, alienating us from problems temporarily sparing us suffering, as in the case of substance abuse. EMDR therapy seeks to relieve disturbing emotions and change limiting beliefs for greater well-being and self-esteem.

In the case of anxiety, we can say that the discomfort is due to a permanent nervous activation, making the person “on” all the time, feeling that he needs to do something to avoid some real or imaginary harm, but without the clarity of a effective action to do so. It’s as if we had one foot on the accelerator and the other on the brake at the same time, running the risk of melting the engine. In depression, we may assume that such efforts to deal with life’s problems have been thwarted, or that life has been cruel and there is little reason to go on living, causing the person to give up, or at least need time to reevaluate. this condition. We can say that regulating this activation and deactivation process makes us functional and healthy or “sick.” He is the autopilot of our lives…

During our physical development, we learn such skills to direct our lives, but this process has its pitfalls, “programming failures.” Their learning is configured in the nervous system as neural networks that tend to perpetuate themselves. They have their origin in the process of maturation of the nervous system in the first years of life, but continue to change throughout it. Often such skills may have worked at first, but may become obsolete with age and ego development. For example, the guidance not to talk to strangers makes sense when given to a child under 10 years old, but it can be very harmful for a teenager in a school environment to make friends, and may trigger social phobia disorder.

In this learning process, we have to deal with situations that are perceived as potentially dangerous. From an evolutionary point of view, we function the same as any other animal that we are. We have three possible reactions in the face of danger: confronting, fleeing or playing dead. To face a danger it is necessary to make a lot of energy available for decisive action. Therefore, at first, the organism accumulates energy, it charges itself and, at the same time, evaluates the situation (brake/accelerator).

Two emotional processes immediately come into play: fear triggers physiological mechanisms that sharpen your perception and prepare the body for a sudden energy discharge, anxiety causes a split that prevents premature discharge. With this, the organism gains time to find the best way out and accumulates load for the motor action. The first two reactions, confront or flee, occur when the organism finds a way out. Anxiety gives way to action, the split is undone, and the hyperarousal is discharged.

But when the cornered organism does not find a way out, it is paralyzed, the energy discharge does not occur and the split persists; the organism collapses, but remains hyperactivated. Everything is suspended, generating a series of uncomfortable physical sensations, such as a feeling of emptiness, disconnection from reality, etc. The experience is not symbolized (attribution of a meaning or direction) nor integrated with the others, as there was no resolution. Hypertensive body traces remain as an unconscious memory; the meaning is not elaborated. This constitutes a traumatic event.

Hyperactivated, the organism continues looking for a way out even after the real danger has passed, but split, without having the symbolization, the person is unable to elaborate the situation and relives it in an exhaustive repetition and the danger never ends. This mechanism can, for example, lead to the irrational efforts of rituals in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Like a hole in the road, the split holds back traffic and causes a traffic jam in its surroundings, keeping the incident in the focus of the organism’s dynamics.

It’s quite common to think we don’t have trauma. Indeed, most people do not have post-traumatic stress disorder. Still, this same dynamic of major trauma is repeated to a lesser extent whenever there is some paralysis in the face of any event. If the motor response remains suspended, the traffic jam remains. Every situation where some paralysis occurs repeats this mechanism of maintenance of the split between hyperactivation and its motor discharge.

The small traumas hinder our functioning, reducing our quality of life. All of us have in our history many events in which we were left without action, and little do we realize how much we can gain if we can resolve them.


EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – is an effective psychotherapeutic method that has helped thousands of people around the world and of different ages to solve, quickly and lastingly, various types of psychological problems and emotional, especially those related to trauma.

How was it developed?

Casually observing that, under certain conditions, eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts, psychologist Francine Shapiro, since 1987, scientifically structured EMDR as a method whose successes were first published in 1989 in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Since then, EMDR has received several contributions from therapists and researchers worldwide, making it a set of protocols that incorporate elements of different psychotherapeutic approaches.

How it works?

Although there is no single satisfactory explanation for the nature of its effectiveness, it is known that when a person is emotionally disturbed (distressed) their brain cannot process information as it does under normal conditions. She is “frozen in time” and the memory of a trauma or the contact with elements of it can be as disturbing as when it was experienced, since the images, sounds, smells, feelings and thoughts are associated with each other, configuring a traumatic package (neural network), with each element of the package acting as a trigger or trigger for the emotions associated with the memory (often without recalling the memory itself).

Such memories usually have a negative and lasting effect on the way a person sees the world and relates to others, interfering markedly in his life.

EMDR has a direct effect on the way the brain works. A successful EMDR session normalizes information processing, causing images, sounds, feelings and sensations to no longer be relived when the event or its triggers are recalled. The event can still be remembered, but its disturbing effect disappears or is noticeably diminished.

Several other therapeutic modalities have a similar purpose, however, EMDR seems to be similar to what occurs naturally during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep when we dream. Therefore, EMDR can be seen as psychotherapy based on the activation of physiological resources that causes the disturbing material to lose its strength within the psyche.

But does EMDR really work?

Several scientific studies have shown that EMDR is really effective. In 1995, the prestigious Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology published a survey by Wilson, Becker and Thinker. In it, the authors demonstrated that 80 subjects with PTSD – Post-traumatic stress disorder – significantly improved with EMDR treatment. 15 months later they still sustained the same satisfactory results.

Findings in this and other studies demonstrate that EMDR is highly effective and that its results are long-lasting.

How does an EMDR session take place?

A session begins with identifying a specific problem to focus on. The patient is asked to bring up a disturbing theme, which could be a memory of an event or a negative thought. Try to keep in mind a scene, a feeling, a sound, a thought and even the negative beliefs related to the problem.

The therapist conducts a series of bilateral stimuli (visual, auditory or tactile) asking the patient to be attentive to the movement while he keeps the disturbing material in mind and the patient just observes and reports whatever comes to mind, without doing anything. effort to control, direct, judge, or analyze the associations that arise.

The patient can be told that the work is done by the brain itself which is activated in the direction of healing. Each person will process their associations in a unique way based on their personal experience and values, so it is important to note that the correct way to process is unique to each patient.

Bilateral stimuli are repeated until the memory is less disturbing and can be associated with positive thoughts and beliefs about oneself, for example: “I did the best I could” or “I am with myself”.

During EMDR sessions, the patient may experience intense emotions, which are welcomed and supported by the therapist, but, in the end, most report a great reduction in their level of distress, offering relief, positive surprise or even joy.

What types of problems can be treated with EMDR?

Research has established that EMDR is effective in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, however, trained clinicians have reported success in treating the following:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • performance anxiety
  • Physical, verbal or sexual abuse
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • dissociative disorders
  • disturbing memories
  • panic attacks
  • Stress Reduction
  • pathological grief
  • phobias
  • drug addiction
  • some depressions

What is the duration of treatment?

One or more sessions are employed in the diagnosis making the therapist decide whether or not EMDR is the most appropriate intervention for the case. The method will be explained to the patient, and, after answering questions and providing clarifications, if both agree, it is possible to start the treatment. The session lasts 50 minutes.

The duration of treatment will be determined by the type of problem, life circumstances and the amount of trauma there is to treat. In some cases, a single session is sufficient, with the most common being between 3 and 10 sessions on a weekly or biweekly basis. EMDR can be used within traditional verbal psychotherapy, as a complementary therapy, delivered by another therapist, or as a stand-alone treatment.

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