How Our Eyes are Changing How We Process Memories

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing is no new therapeutic approach in treating trauma, but what is it exactly?

EMDR is an interactive treatment approach that addresses memories that have been inadequately processed and maladaptively stored. EMDR therapy capitalizes on a technique called bilateral stimulation to help reprocess traumatic experiences. The back and forth eye movements are the most notable aspect of EMDR therapy. These eye movements mimic the period of sleep referred to as rapid eye movement or REM sleep. This portion of sleep is considered to be the time when the mind processes the recent events in a person’s life. EMDR therapy targets the memories that have been fueling problematic symptoms and help clients reprocess them. EMDR does not transform bad memories into good memories but discards aspects of the memory (e.g negative beliefs, feeling, etc.) that are no longer helpful. EMDR does not require in-depth recollection of traumatic experiences and can be helpful for:

  • Panic Attacks

  • Complicated Grief

  • Dissociative Disorders

  • Disturbing Memories

  • Phobias

  • Pain Disorders

  • Performance Anxiety

  • Addictions

  • Stress Reduction

  • Sexual and/or Physical Abuse

  • Body Dysmorphic Disorders

  • Personality Disorders

The way we process and hold our memories contributes to psychological struggles. Meaning when we reflect on memory it evokes a specific emotion, sensations, images, thoughts, and perception of self. That event and the way we feel and think about it keeps us stuck and inhibit present functioning. For example, a rape victim experiences intrusive images of the event, and negative thoughts, "I caused this" or "I'm dirty" are associated with it. The fear and shame connected to the experience are contributing to the individual's panic attacks, conflict with coworkers, and avoidance of romantic relationships. EMDR makes these negative thoughts less valid and an individual can begin to relate to the experience differently. Through EMDR reprocessing, a rape victim now may see the event as empowering having survived being at gunpoint "I am strong and resilient", or the associated triggers become less intense allowing the individual to engage in relationships more effectively or decrease their irritability with coworkers.

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