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The Science Behind EMDR: Exploring the Neurobiology of Eye Movement Therapy

EMDR therapy in Colorado for trauma

I recently finished up EMDR training just a few weeks ago. For those that may not be familiar, EMDR is a modality used often integrated into the treatment of trauma. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a therapeutic approach that has become more well-known in recent years for its effectiveness in treating trauma-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What’s interesting about EMDR is that it uses bilateral stimulation to facilitate the processing and resolution of distressing memories and experiences. While it is considered an evidence-based practice by experts in the field, it can be helpful for you to understand the science and neurobiology that makes it so powerful. In this blog post, we’ll take a look into the science behind EMDR and how it works.

An Overview of EMDR Therapy

EMDR therapy in Colorado

EMDR was developed by a psychologist named Francine Shapiro in the late ‘80s. The modality is based on a model of neurobiology called Adaptive Information Processing (AIP). This model essentially suggests that the brain has all the tools and equipment it needs to heal itself and process traumatic memories and experiences. The process of EMDR helps you to facilitate the integration of traumatic memories by engaging in bilateral stimulation. What is bilateral stimulation, you might ask? Bilateral stimulation in EMDR most often is side-to-side eye movements, or moving the eyes side to side during the therapy session. However, other bilateral stimulation methods such as auditory or tactile stimulation may also be used.

The Science: Neurobiological Components of EMDR

  1. Dual Attention: EMDR involves dual attention, which requires the individual to simultaneously focus on the distressing memory while attending to the external stimulus, such as the therapist's hand movements. This dual attention has been found to activate and engage the prefrontal cortex, particularly the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), which is responsible for cognitive control and the regulation of emotional responses.

  2. Memory Reconsolidation: EMDR helps with the process of memory reconsolidation—bringing forward memories that perhaps may have been suppressed or stored somewhere in the brain that has prevented it from being retrieved, processed, and then. With the help of bilateral stimulation in the EMDR process, a distressing memory is accessed, allowing for the reconsolidation of the memory in a less distressing form. This process may involve the modification of core negative beliefs and the integration of new positive beliefs related to the specific situation being processed.

  3. Bilateral Stimulation: The bilateral stimulation is one of the key elements of the EMDR process. Basically, it’s what jumpstarts the brain to start processing and integrating of distressing or traumatic memories in the brain. It is often achieved through side to side eye movements, but there are multiple methods of bilateral stimulation—for example self-tapping on the legs or shoulders from side to side. There have been several studies that show that bilateral stimulation can be associated with increased activation in the prefrontal cortex as well as other parts of the brain that are involved in attention, sensory processing, and memory retrieval. In short, this means that the bilateral stimulation may allow the accessing and reprocessing of traumatic memories.

Work With An EMDR Therapist in Denver

EMDR is a wonderful tool that may help individuals who have experienced trauma by providing both a safe and therapeutic approach that can be impactful in just a few sessions.

How We Can Help

Interested in learning more or in possibly working with an EMDR therapist?

Schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation with our Scheduling Coordinator today to learn more and get connected to an EMDR therapist at Catalyss Counseling!

If you are looking for general support, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you, follow these simple steps:

  1. Contact us today for a free 20-minute phone consultation

  2. Or, you can book directly online with the therapist of your choice

  3. Begin your journey towards a calmer, more relaxed life

Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:

Author Biography

Julie Bloom is a student intern from the Regis University Masters in Counseling program. She supports neurodivergent students, young adults, and those in the LGBTQ+ community who are feeling stuck, burned out, or having relationship difficulties to find your identity so you can connect with yourself and others in a fulfilling way. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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