What is EMDR Therapy? A Personal Experience.

by Aly Hazlewood on January 24, 2016


One of the many great things about New Life is the number of different therapeutic modalities on offer, ranging from refuge recovery for addiction, the Hakomi method, TRE, Dance Mandala, EFT, Art therapy, core process psychotherapy and more.

We are currently very fortunate to have Ani Konchog on the Life Coach team again this year. Ani Konchog is a Western nun ordained in the Tibetan tradition. She is a student of Pema Chodrun and B. Alan Wallace and a trained Psychologist and EMDR Practitioner. Having had the benefit of several life coaching sessions with Ani Konchog utilising EMDR, I thought I would describe my experience of this method for anyone who is unfamiliar with it.

What is EMDR and how does it work?

EMDR is the acronym for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing; an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the rapid treatment of trauma, and post traumatic stress in over 20 controlled studies. It has also proven very effective in the treatment of the following conditions:

Panic attacks
Complicated grief
Dissociative disorders
Disturbing memories
Pain disorders
Performance anxiety
Stress reduction
Sexual and/or Physical abuse
Body dysmorphic disorders
Personality Disorders

The guided eye movements during an EMDR session can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts

Neuroscience has demonstrated that a traumatic event can be ‘frozen in time’ in the body systems memory, rather than narrative memory; so that when the event is subsequently brought to mind, one relives the images, sounds, and feelings of the original event with a similar intensity. This can be extremely distressing, interfering with the way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people.

EMDR is shown to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. Similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the guided eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts, under certain conditions. Following a successful EMDR session, normal information processing is resumed, so you still remember the event, but it is significantly less upsetting.

One of the unusual features of EMDR is that you don’t necessarily have to discuss disturbing memories in detail

A typical EMDR session lasts from 60 to 90 minutes. The type of problem, life circumstances, and the amount of previous trauma will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary for each individual.

After just three sessions, I felt that the intensity of certain traumatic childhood memories (and the subsequent negative self-beliefs that formed as a result of the experiences) had dropped from an 8 to a 2 (using a scale to rate the disturbance; with 0 being no disturbance, to 10, being the worst feeling you’ve ever had).

I did experience distress when recalling the specific memories that I was looking to heal, but one is completely in control of the process. If one experiences too much distress, one simply has to hold up a hand to pause or stop the EMDR treatment. I also noted a significant decrease in body tension after each session, and have not suffered any distress specifically relating to these memories since. However, I recognise that I haven’t been particularly triggered in this area since the treatment, so time will tell whether EMDR has had a significant impact on the trauma.

One of the unusual features of EMDR is that you don’t necessarily have to discuss disturbing memories in detail (which for some, can be re-traumatising). Some people may be comfortable, or even prefer, giving specifics, other people may want to present more of a general picture or outline.

“(…) our brains know how to heal themselves, and often without the use of medications”

Personally, what struck me about this treatment (and other somatic treatments such as TRE or EFT) is how intelligent the body-mind is. Neuroscience is only just beginning to understand that our brains -with the right guidance – know how to heal themselves, and often without the use of medications. One of the additional benefits of undergoing a therapy like EMDR in the New Life environment; is that one isn’t required to step out of the treatment room and back into the hectic bustle of city life. At New Life, one has time, space and peace for the brain’s natural process to fully integrate.

You can read more of my experience of volunteering at New Life Foundation here

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Heaven Isearth January 24, 2016 at 6:11 am

How wonderful and sensible that New Life understand addiction as the result of traumatic experiences, and are including trauma therapies in their treatment program! I hipe this wisdom permeates throughout the world. Your friends at New Life might also like to seek out a NARM practitioner, as this method seems to be the most effective to deal with attachment trauma and complex PTSD, both of which are the most resistent to treatment, and, I believe, highly correlated to addictive behaviours.

Aly Hazlewood February 3, 2016 at 4:20 am

Thank you for the comment, I will do a bit of research into NARM.

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