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Take a moment and imagine your brain as a file room, full of filing cabinets. The brain is always at work trying to file experiences across 3 basic channels: thinking, emotional, and body. The Thinking Channel is our thoughts, images, language, the explicit memories of our day. The Emotional Channel covers all the feelings we experience. The Body Channel is comprised of three sub-channels; inner body sensations (increasing heart rate, depth & speed of breath, cramps or pain sensations), our 8 Sense Perceptions (our 5 senses, vestibular movements & tensions, proprioception) and neuroception.

Most of your memories along these three channels get nicely filed away each night when you sleep without us even realizing it is happening. When you go into REM sleep (the sleep stage where you dream and when you are most likely to see someone’s eyes flicker back and forth), your brain looks at each experience from your day, sifting and sorting as it goes, and files it away as it feels best.


letters emdr engraved in wood
Pile of messy files- image by Alexander Grey (Unsplash)

When there is an experience that is really disturbing, one that has created intense anxiety or overwhelm, the brain leaves it out because it wants to have the experience easily accessible for quick reference to keep you safe. As a constant reminder to be aware and alert, just in case it happens again. Though the mind means well here, it leaves us with an experience that is not filed away as other everyday memories are. This means that every time we want to access our file room to think about something or to file away information or memories, it's right there, out in the open, and sometimes up in our face. It hasn’t been sifted and sorted, date stamped and filed away like other day to day experiences have. Because it was left out to keep us safe, this event now stays ‘alive’ and shows up in new experiences even when it does not apply. This means we now have all these new experiences that end up getting filed only after they are filtered through the files that are left out which causes blockages, misfiling and all kinds of issues moving forward.

It is important to know that the brain has a natural tendency to process information in a way that keeps us mentally and psychologically healthy. Though we may question that when we look at our file room that seems in shambles right now, it is important to remember that the mind meant well when it left this file out, it was a survival technique that the brain felt was important.

With EMDR Therapy, we start by working on your ‘window of tolerance’, by this we mean that state of being calm and balanced, so that you can function most effectively, both emotionally and physically. We teach you tools and skills so you can feel calm and secure when we venture into that file room. For some, feeling calm and secure is not something they have felt before and we work together to help you to develop that ability and bring about a sense of calm for yourself when you need to regulate your internal system.

In order for this work to be successful, you must understand and embrace the role of Observer. That part of our mind that notices what is happening and just observes, witnessing the processes of all 3 channels throughout your day. You may already be skilled at listening to (and believing) the thinking and emotional channels, but the observation of them will be vital. If this doesn’t come naturally and seems a bit alien to you now, don’t worry, we will teach you how to do this.

Additionally, understanding your body responses is necessary to see where the body holds trauma and blockages in order to process and release them. The body always holds the emotions and experiences. You will know yourself how intense anxiety is so physically manifested with body symptoms; trauma and distress is the same. Our body will hold the blockage and will be letting you know through physical health complaints or aches and tensions.

All this so far is essential preparation work. It is necessary to do this work first so that you can have the most successful experience of EMDR.

EMDR was originally called so because it relied on eye movements, but research has since shown that using left/right tapping also has the same effect in terms of activating the brains natural healing process. The eye movements or tapping part of EMDR will happen only after the preparation work has been done. We will venture into the file room to support and guide your brain’s natural healing process to clear the blockages and file these experiences (and those filtered through them) properly.

Just like all the other memories in your file room, you won’t forget these experiences, but they will move from being a disturbance, to being just another memory. You will be able to move forward without them coming up and influencing new experiences.

The past events, experiences and limiting beliefs about yourself (i.e. I am not good enough, I am a bad person, I am weak etc) will be in the past once and for all! We will work together to build in more helpful beliefs about yourself such as I am safe now, I am a good person, I am deserving etc. These are aligned to who you are now, your values and what you want for yourself moving forward in your life.

One of the great things about EMDR and why it is so effective is that it does not require you to talk in depth about your experiences, or even to mention them at all. When done well and correctly, there are ways of using EMDR protocols and techniques that make it effective when treating memories or experiences that you don’t want to, or can’t, talk about.

To find out more about EMDR and how it can help you, get in touch to arrange an appointment.

Get started with EMDR

How EMDR Therapy can help…

1. EMDR is a treatment model that utilises bilateral stimulation – such as eye movements – to activate the brain in a way that processes and resolves ‘stuck’ traumatic memories. In a sense, EMDR ‘kick-starts’ the brain’s natural healing process and gets it going again.

2. In EMDR Therapy, you and your therapist will work together to identify:

    • The current issues or symptoms in your life that you would like to address, and
    • which issue would be a good starting point to focus on
    • Which traumatic or stressful events in your life have led to the development of your primary issue or symptom. These are the memories that will be ‘targeted’
    • The memory or issue that would be the best place to start

3. Once you and the therapist feel confident that you are ready to process this ‘target’, you will be asked a series of questions that helps you to identify:

    • The content of the distressing memory (ie. an image of the worst moment)
    • The negative belief(s) that you have about yourself in relation to the event and
    • what you would rather believe instead
    • The emotions/sensations that you feel when you connect with the event

4. Your therapist will then guide you to track their fingers left to right (or another form of bilateral stimulation such as alternate sounds or taps), while observing the memory and any beliefs, emotions or sensations that emerge, just allowing whatever happens to happen.

5. This continues in repeated sets, with the therapist regularly checking in with you in between each set of eye movements, to see what is coming up for you.

How EMDR works

  • The eye movements (or other form of bilateral stimulation) activate the brain in a way that helps to process the memory.
  • When you recall the memory, it moves from your long-term memory to your short-term memory, otherwise known as working memory. Keeping the memory in your mind while tracking the therapist’s fingers at the same time means that your working memory has to process a lot of information at the same time, therefore ‘overloading’ your working memory.
  • As a result of all of this, three things usually happen:

       1. The memory becomes more distant

       2. Emotional distress diminishes

       3. New, more helpful beliefs emerge

  • Pathways start connecting between the emotional part of the brain and the part of the brain that thinks logically. You are likely to start thinking differently about the memory, which leads to it having a much less negative impact on you.
  • As you process a series of key memories or issues in EMDR Therapy over time, your trauma symptoms are likely to reduce; more positive ways of thinking will likely develop, and your responses and behaviour will likely start to change.
  • These changes are profound and lasting because you are addressing core issues on a deep level, rather than just managing your symptoms.
  • EMDR is an 8-phase model of treatment that can take different lengths of time, depending on your particular circumstances. Some people require more preparation than others. Some memories resolve in a single session, sometimes it takes a few sessions. There is no right or wrong!
  • You will be awake and in control at all times during an EMDR session and you can say ‘stop’ if you are feeling overwhelmed and need to pause the process.
  • EMDR Therapy is a highly effective method of treatment that is endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and delivered by many trauma therapists across the world.