It's likely that at some point you have heard the expression "it's like learning to ride a bike". An expression used to describe skills that once learned, are easy to recall and hard to forget. Neuroscientists have discoved that each time a new skill is learned, the brain creates a neuralpathway. The ability to ride a bike, even after years of not doing so, is attributed to the therory that repetition strengthens neural pathways, allowing certain muscle movements within the memory, to be stored in the brain.
But what happens when negative memories become stored in the brain?
When faced with a traumatic experience or preceived threat, the nervous system signals the release of stress hormones, setting off a “fight-or-flight” response. The body reacts by triggering an increase in heart rate and respiration, constricting blood vessels and tightening muscles. If the nervous system is unable to return to its normal state of balance and unable to move on from traumatic events, people often experience PTSD.
What if there was actually a way to help restore balance and assist the brain in re-processing traumatic memories?
A study, funded by Kaiser Permanente, found that 100% of the single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer were diagnosed with PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions.
People who have suffered for years from PTSD symptoms, including anxiety, intrusive thoughts, difficulty sleeping, and even chronic pain, are experiencing relief from a unique, relatively new therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, or simply EMDR.
EMDR does not involve the use of drugs or hypnosis. Rather, EMDR works by using bilateral stimulation, either guided right/left eye movement, or tactile stimulation, such as tapping, to activate alternate sides of the brain. This allows the memory of traumatic experiences that are essentially "trapped" in the nervous system, to be released. Researchers believe this happens as a result of the physiological process of rerouting neuropathways through the brain.
Much like the process of learning to ride a bike builds new neuropathways that strengthen over time, the repetitive, bilateral stimulation used in EMDR allows new neuropathways to be created at the same time traumatic memories are being reprocessed and desensitized. The memories still exist, but the nervous system no longer triggers the "fight or flight" response when the memories are recalled. As a result EMDR can greatly reduce the negative impact trauma has on a person's life.
EMDR therapy is also unique, as it involves attention to three time periods: the past, present, and future. Focus is given to disturbing memories of the past, while current situations that cause distress are identified, and skills are developed for positive future actions.
While EMDR was initially developed for the treatment of PTSD, mental healthcare providers have reported a great response to when used to treat other conditions such as intense grief from loss of a loved one, generalized anxiety, phobias and addiction.
If you are a loved one are suffering from PTSD, a difficult life challenge or other condition, E-Counseling Essentials offers EMDR therapy sessions online, through trained and licensed therapists. Try it out with a free online therapy session.
*A full description of the theory, sequence of treatment, and research on protocols and active mechanisms can be found in F. Shapiro (2001) Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: Basic principles, protocols and procedures (2nd edition) New York: Guilford Press.