As I attempt to describe EMDR, I find myself fumbling and being unclear. I’ve searched many websites hoping to boil it down to something short and easy to grasp. At the risk of getting it all wrong, and while it is still a work in progress, this is the simplest explanation I can offer.
When our children experienced traumatic events in their early lives, the memories were stored in their brains. They were not cognitively processed or healed, so now, when challenges come, those early memories affect the way our children respond. EMDR stimulates the brain to reprocess the memories and replace them with positive and true beliefs.
This is done through bilateral stimulation using either eye movement from side-to-side, taps on one side then the other, or even “buzzies” – small objects the child holds in their hands that vibrate, alternating right-left-right-left. During this stimulation, the therapist guides the child to briefly focus on the traumatic memory and then helps her to create new associations and positive beliefs. Where she may have believed, “I am in danger/unloveable/worthless,” she embraces a new truth, “I am safe/loveable/precious.”
I know this sounds odd, but hang on; let me illustrate.
Yesterday Dimples came home from school and wanted to make a snack. She loves to cook and when she discovered leftover baked potatoes and chicken in the refrigerator, she wanted to saute them in olive oil and spices. This was fine with me, and since she was cooking a large quantity of food, I mentioned that her siblings would enjoy some as well. This kicked-off an hour long “discussion” about the fact that there was not enough food for all of them, she was going to be too hungry and needed to eat all of it, they didn’t need food and she did, and on it went. She was certain that she was “starving,” and in a very real way, she believed it to be true.
It doesn’t take a stroke of brilliance to recognize that these thoughts and accompanying feelings are rooted in the extreme deprivation and hunger of her early life. But try as we might – for over five years – we have not been able to conquer the deep fear that there will never be enough and she will always be close to starvation.
EMDR stimulates the brain to process these painful memories and create new neural pathways within the memory network. We hope that through EMDR, Dimples’ deep and literal fear of hunger and starvation will be replaced with the knowledge that there is enough food for her and for the rest of the family. She does not have to compete with her siblings for her survival.
This desperate battle is deeply rooted in our children’s brains, and it is about far more than food. Abuse and neglect have a pervasive effect and, despite our best efforts to demonstrate our children’s safety and security, the sense of being in danger and needing to protect oneself is as instinctive as is breathing in and out.
Our hope is that this therapy will heal Dimples’ deepest wounds and we will move together toward wholeness. We pray that Dimples’ core beliefs will be replaced with the truth that she is precious to God and deeply loved by Him – and that she is precious to Russ and me and deeply loved by us.
If you would like to read more about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, take a look at these links:
Expert Answers on E.M.D.R. (The topic of EMDR and children is specifically addressed.)
What is the Actual EMDR Session Like? (I found this to be extremely helpful.)
Thanks so much for reading.