Archive of ‘EMDR’ category

Why I Love Being an EMDR Therapist

Becoming an EMDR Trained Therapist is one of the most exciting things I have ever done. It is my honor and my joy to work with persons who have carried terrible burdens of trauma and pain for many years; and to help them unload those burdens, and find healing, hope, and peace. 

Alphabet soup

The acronym EMDR stands for “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.” That is a mouthful. I would define EMDR therapy as “a powerful way to assist your brain’s natural healing process.” This solidly-researched psychotherapy method helps people recover from trauma, PTSD, anxiety, depression, panic disorder, addiction, and many other difficulties in living. 

Your brain knows how to heal 

Each day, our brains absorb a huge amount of information. Many things happen to us, both good and bad. Our brains sift out the key information, and store it in a form that will help us handle new experiences. This is how we learn from the past, adapt to our environment, and prepare ourselves for the future. 

Your brain knows how to heal, just as your body knows how to heal. When bad things happen to us, our brain heals from them—much as your skin heals from a cut. Much of the daily healing of our brains occurs while we sleep. 

Trauma interrupts healing

Trauma interrupts the brain’s natural healing process. Trauma is an intensely disturbing or distressing experience that overwhelms our ability to cope. When you experience a trauma, your brain is unable to do its normal processing of that event. Your brain is unable to put the memory in a form that is useful for the future. Instead, the memory gets stuck in its original, raw, disturbing form—including distressing thoughts, emotions, and body sensations.  

EMDR therapy restarts healing 

 The role of an EMDR therapist is to restart your brain’s natural healing process. The therapist follows carefully-researched methods that guide your brain to heal naturally. One of my mentors compared an EMDR therapist to a midwife. A midwife assists a woman as she gives birth naturally; the midwife intervenes only when necessary. Likewise, an EMDR therapist assists a client as his or her brain heals naturally; the therapist intervenes only when necessary. 

Where did EMDR therapy come from?

In 1987, American psychologist Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., made a chance discovery. While walking through a park, thinking about a disturbing memory, she happened to be moving her eyes rapidly from side to side. After her walk, she noticed that while the memory remained, it no longer disturbed her. Fascinated, she dedicated the rest of her life to researching this phenomenon, and developing it into a powerful method for healing. Many researchers all over the world joined in her work. After Dr. Shapiro’s untimely death in 2019, EMDR research has continued. 

EMDR therapy has been extensively researched, all over the world, for over 30 years. Research has shown that EMDR therapy is effective not only for trauma counseling and PTSD recovery, but also for anxiety, depression, panic disorders, substance use and addiction, and many other mental health needs. EMDR therapy yields deep, lasting healing. For many clients, EMDR therapy yields results faster than other methods of psychotherapy. 

Eye movements

Typically, an EMDR therapist guides the client to move their eyes rapidly from side to side. In some situations, a therapist may choose tapping, or some other form of side-to-side stimulation, instead. It is thought that the side-to-side stimulation, rapidly alternating left-right-left-right, stimulates the left and right hemispheres of the brain to work cooperatively with each other in the healing process. 

EMDR therapy is safe and effective

EMDR therapy works. EMDR therapy has 30 years of solid research behind it. Highly respected health organizations—including the American Psychological Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, and the World Health Organization—have endorsed EMDR therapy as a safe, effective, evidence-based treatment.

EMDR therapy is based on the neurobiology of the brain. Neurobiology is a field that has advanced greatly in the past 30 years. New discoveries in neurobiology show that EMDR therapy brings about real, observable, biological healing in the brain. 

EMDR therapy may be related to REM sleep

Researchers think that the rapid, side-to-side eye movements used in EMDR therapy resemble the rapid eye movements that we experience during part of the time that we are asleep. Have you ever seen a sleeping person whose eyes are moving side to side, under their closed eyelids? This is called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. It is thought that REM sleep is an important part of our brains’ healing process. 

When the EMDR therapist guides the client to move their eyes rapidly from side to side, this may mimic REM sleep. However, during EMDR therapy, the client is wide awake and fully in control of his or her thoughts and actions. 

EMDR therapy is a holistic approach

EMDR therapy is not a quick fix. EMDR therapy is not a technique, or a collection of techniques. 

EMDR therapy is an integrated, holistic approach to mental health care. Like any other form of counseling, it is built on the solid foundation of your having a good, working relationship with your therapist. You and your EMDR therapist will take time to build a relationship of mutual trust. A good EMDR therapist will treat you with deep respect, empathy, and unconditional positive regard. He or she will notice your strengths, point them out to you, and help you believe in them.

EMDR therapy accesses the “emotional brain”

EMDR therapy helps make connections between your thinking and your feelings. EMDR therapy helps bridge the gap between your head and your heart. 

Our brains have layers. The outermost layer is the “thinking brain,” where rational thought occurs. The inner layers are the “emotional brain,” where our feelings reside, along with our survival instincts. Your “emotional brain” communicates closely with your body. You may have noticed that your emotions influence your body sensations, and vice versa. 

Trauma lodges in the “emotional brain” more than it does in the “thinking brain.” Trauma also lodges in the body. You may have read the bestseller “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma,” by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. The title of that book states an important truth. 

EMDR therapy differs from many forms of psychotherapy in that it directly accesses our “emotional brain.” By contrast, some forms of therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), directly access our “thinking brain.” Even if you have already experienced some form of “talk therapy,” you may benefit from EMDR therapy in addition. EMDR therapy addresses a different part of your brain, and gives a different kind of healing.

Reducing the distress of a memory 

Sometimes we wish that we could erase a painful memory, but our brains don’t work that way. Attempts to numb the pain, for example with alcohol or drugs, are temporary—and have many unwanted side effects. 

EMDR therapy doesn’t erase the memory. But it reduces the distress associated with the memory. The relief that one experiences from EMDR therapy is permanent, and without side effects. 

EMDR therapy helps the mind, emotions, and body to heal from the memory. During EMDR therapy, the memory is processed into a useful form. Our brain makes sense out of it. We learn from the past so that we can cope better in the future. The distressing, volatile emotions are calmed. The body response to the memory is released. Many clients report an overall reduction in distress. 

If you have experienced a trauma, it will always be a terrible event. It will always be something that should never have happened to you. EMDR therapy doesn’t change the facts. But EMDR therapy enables you to be at peace with the past, and to look forward to the future with hope. 

Touching the memory without reliving it

During EMDR therapy, the client touches the traumatic memory without reliving it. The therapist guides the client to recall the event without being overwhelmed by it. This is like the difference between diving into the swimming pool, or just dipping your toe. For EMDR therapy, you only dip your toe. For this reason, EMDR therapy is gentler to the client than some forms of therapy that involve reliving the trauma.

Healing memories without telling the details

Surprisingly, EMDR therapy works even if the client tells the therapist very little about the traumatic memory. The client needs to recall and notice the memory and their reactions to it. However, healing does not depend on the therapist knowing any details. This is important, since sometimes a client needs to heal from a trauma that he or she cannot talk about in detail. An example would be a veteran who has served on secret missions.  

Have you experienced trauma? 

No one goes through life unscathed. Even if you do not think of yourself as a trauma survivor, you certainly have had some disturbing experiences. 

When we think of trauma, we often think of catastrophic events, such as a devastating car accident or a sexual assault. But our brains are also affected by adverse life experiences—events that may not seem major, but that may impact us. Adverse life experiences can affect us deeply if they are repeated for a long time, or if we were very young or otherwise vulnerable when they occurred. 

Are your past traumas affecting your present-day life?

If the answer is “no,” then there is no reason to revisit your past, painful experiences. There is no excuse to ask someone to revisit a painful experience—unless it is necessary for healing. 

If painful experiences from your past are truly healed, they do not harm you in the present, and they will not harm you in the future. If, on the other hand, traumas are merely “contained,” not healed, they may impact you in the future. To illustrate the difference, recall stories you have heard about veterans. 

You have probably heard stories of soldiers who experienced the horrors of war, but bravely returned to battle day after day. There was no time to heal from these wartime traumas, so the soldiers “contained” them as long as they could—sometimes for years after the battles were over. However, for some veterans, a chance event can suddenly break open the “container” that holds the traumas. Suddenly, the veteran is overwhelmed with flashbacks, nightmares, etc., that make it difficult for him or her to cope. A veteran in that situation would benefit from EMDR therapy. 

The goal of EMDR therapy is to heal your past traumas, not merely to stuff them into a “container.” “Containment” is temporary, but healing lasts. 

Lingering symptoms of trauma

You may be experiencing aftereffects of trauma that you do not recognize as such. Lingering symptoms of past trauma may include feeling ashamed, worthless, hopeless, depressed, anxious, irritable or numb; feeling emotionally overwhelmed or unable to concentrate; experiencing nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, chronic pain, headaches, eating disorders, substance abuse, or self-destructive behavior; constantly being on alert for danger; having blank time periods of your life about which you have few or no memories; feeling as if you or your surroundings are unreal; or feeling as if your body is not your own. 

Time and budget

A good EMDR therapist will respect your time and budget. He or she will work with you to create a treatment plan based on your goals. The purpose is to give you as much healing as possible, as efficiently as possible. You may request a short-term, solution-focused plan. Alternatively, you may seek to resolve complex trauma—if you desire deep healing from many, serious hurts.

Sometimes in the course of therapy, new issues can arise. This is true of any kind of therapy, not just EMDR therapy. If new issues arise, you and your therapist can decide together how best to handle them. 

EMDR processing of a specific memory is a well-defined project, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. At some point you will say to your therapist something like, “It was still a terrible event, but it doesn’t upset me anymore. I am at peace.” After careful checking, your therapist will say to you something like, “Congratulations! You have completed the processing of that memory. Good work!” 

Clients are smart

If you are feeling caution, hesitation, or ambivalence about trying EMDR therapy, I respect that. One of my mentors told me, “Our clients are smart. They know what they are ready for.” A good EMDR therapist will listen carefully to your needs and priorities. He or she will follow your sense of urgency. He or she will respect your sense of caution. Together you will create a plan for how EMDR therapy can best help you. 

In collaboration with your therapist, you may choose to start very gently, for example by naming a current source of anxiety in your life, and working to reduce your suffering about this current stressor. Alternatively, you and your therapist may decide together that you are ready to address a major trauma in your past that is impacting your life today. 

Key takeaway

EMDR is a powerful form of therapy that gives deep healing. For me it is a great privilege to assist in my clients’ natural healing process. I am often in awe as I witness the beautiful way in which my clients’ brains achieve healing, wholeness, and peace.  

[I wish to thank Helen Harris, Ed.D., LCSW-S, Rick Levinson, LCSW, Kasey Salyer, LCSW-S, and Trina Welz, LPC-S, for teaching me the above material. I also referred to a paper by Janina Fisher, Ph.D.] 

Written by: Catherine C. Stansbury, LMSW, supervised by Melissa L. Gould, LCSW-S. Catherine is a therapist here at Austin Family Counseling. She is an EMDR Trained Therapist specializing in trauma therapy for adults. She has a Master of Social Work from Baylor University. She is a Certified Practitioner of the MBTI, trained by The Myers & Briggs Foundation; a PAC Certified Independent Consultant, trained by the Positive Approach to Care organization; an associate member of the Aging Life Care Association; and an associate member of the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA).


The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: A Tool for Understanding Yourself and Others

Would you like a tool to help you understand yourself and others? I highly recommend the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). There are many personality assessments. Some are large and cumbersome, while others are oversimplified. The Myers-Briggs seems to hit a sweet spot. As psychologist Dr. Richard Grant puts it, the Myers-Briggs is “simple, memorable, portable, and applicable.” 

Introduction


Based on theories by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961), the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was developed by two American women, Katharine Briggs (1875-1968) and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers (1897-1980). Although some academics dismissed their work because they did not have PhD’s, the two women persevered in their research. They were followed by Isabel’s son Peter B. Myers and many other researchers who continued their work. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator now has over 70 years of solid research behind it. It has been shown to be reliable (consistent) and valid (meaningful). It has been translated into many languages, and is used throughout the world. 

The Myers-Briggs is a way to appreciate an invisible form of human diversity: our personalities. The Myers-Briggs sorts humankind into 16 distinct personality types. People of the same personality type have striking similarities in outlook, even if they come from opposite sides of the world. Indeed, at some international conferences on the Myers-Briggs, participants are grouped with others of their personality type. Participants find it invigorating to meet others of their own personality type, from various nationalities and cultures. 

The Myers-Briggs is 100% positive and favorable. All 16 personality types are good. In fact, all of the types benefit from one other. They are complementary. We are able to give feedback for each other’s blind spots. A classic book by Isabel Briggs Myers and Peter B. Myers is entitled “Gifts Differing,” from the Biblical verse “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us…” (Romans 12:6, KJV). One of the main things that we have learned from the COVID pandemic is that we need other human beings more than we previously realized. The Myers-Briggs gives us a way to look at our need for each other.

If we compare human beings to computers, we all have a dazzling array of “applications”—all the skills that we have learned. But under the surface, we appear to have 16 different “operating systems”—our innate way of viewing the world. If you can identify your “operating system,” and the “operating systems” of your loved ones, you have a powerful tool for understanding each other. 

You are unique. There has never been anyone like you in the history of the world, nor will there ever be. But you have some characteristics that you share with some other human beings: for instance, your nationality, your gender, and your age. And you have some characteristics that you share with every other human being: for instance, you have a brain and a heart. Your Myers-Briggs personality type is in that middle category: you share your personality type with some other human beings, but not with all. Your Myers-Briggs personality type doesn’t label or stereotype you. It is simply a useful tool. There is infinite diversity within each of the 16 types. 

The Myers-Briggs Preferences

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator sorts people’s preferences according to four two-ended dimensions: 

  1. Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I);
  2. Sensing (S) or Intuition (N—since the letter “I” has already been used);
  3. Thinking (T) or Feeling (F); and
  4. Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

Developmentally, we become conscious through our preferences within each of these pairs. Determining your preference in each of the four pairs determines your personality type, which is designated by four letters. For example, I am an ISFJ, meaning that I prefer Introversion, Sensing, Feeling, and Judging. As you can see, the two choices for each of the four pairs yields 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 16 types. 

Myths and Facts

Myth: My Myers-Briggs type has changed as I have matured.

Fact: Jung’s theory is that we are born with a “true type” that remains the same all our lives, even as we learn and grow. Your “true type” is worth learning, because it’s a fundamental part of who you are. 

Myth: The Myers-Briggs is unreliable, because I got a different result on two different occasions that I took it. 

Fact: No psychological assessment tool is perfect. Human beings are dazzlingly complex. Psychology is not an exact science like physics or math. The result that you get from the questionnaire, your “measured type,” may not be the same as your “true type.” Once you know your “measured type,” I recommend that you meet with a “Certified Practitioner of the MBTI” to determine your “true type.” Sometimes one letter, or even 2 letters, need to be adjusted. In my MBTI Certification class, there were 15 students. The instructor met with each of us individually to determine our “true type.” For 12 of us, our “true type” matched our “measured type.” For 2 students, one letter needed to be adjusted. For one student, 2 letters needed to be adjusted. For each of the 15 students, learning one’s “true type” was a wonderful “Aha!” moment, a moment of feeling understood, appreciated, and affirmed. 

Myth: I can’t be classified, because I am equally good at both choices, in some or all of the pairs.

Fact: You may have developed strong skills on both sides of a pair. However, one side of the pair is more natural for you, and the other is more of a learned skill. When answering the questionnaire, if you are in doubt about how to answer a question, ask yourself which felt more natural to you as you were growing up—and which you may have learned later, because you needed to. An analogy is that one of my friends was born left-handed in the 1930’s. According to the custom of the time, she was taught to write with her right hand. However, all her life, for all skills other than writing, her left hand was more adept. The goal of the Myers-Briggs is to identify your natural, innate preferences.

Myth: My score on Extraversion is only slightly higher than my score on Introversion. That means that I’m only slightly Extraverted.

Fact: The Myers-Briggs is simply a sorting procedure. It does not indicate the degree or extent to which you have a characteristic. It sorts people as having a preference for Extraversion, or for Introversion, one or the other, not “how much.” The scores indicate how confident we are about the accuracy of the sorting procedure. If you score high on Extraversion, we can be fairly sure that you have a preference for Extraversion. If you score only slightly higher for Extraversion than for Introversion, we can’t be too sure about that preference. In that case, you especially need a “Certified Practitioner of the MBTI” to help you discover your “true type.” 

Myth: Introverts are shy and don’t like being with people.

Fact: Introverts can be very friendly and outgoing. Introversion and Extraversion have nothing to do with whether you enjoy being with people. They have to do with how you “recharge your batteries.” When you are tired or stressed, does it re-energize you to be with other people? Or do you need some time by yourself to regain your energy? This is an example of how the words in the Myers-Briggs are used a little differently from the way they are used in everyday speech. Try to drop your preconceptions about the words, and learn their Myers-Briggs meaning. 

Myth: Judging types are judgmental.

Fact: Having a Judging preference does not mean that you are judgmental; nor does having a Perceiving preference mean that you are perceptive. Here is another place where Myers-Briggs terms are different from the related, everyday words. Remember that everything in the Myers-Briggs is positive. The word “judging” is used in a positive way, as when you say that a person “has good judgment.” People with a Judging preference like to make decisions, make plans, and have things settled. People with a Perceiving preference like to be spontaneous, keep their options open, and respond fluidly to new situations. 

Myth: Thinking types can’t feel, and Feeling types can’t think.

Fact: All humans think, and all humans feel. In the Myers-Briggs, having a Thinking preference means that you like to make decisions based on objective, logical analysis. Having a Feeling preference means that you like to make decisions based on people, values, and harmony. Both ways of making decisions are valuable.

How to Proceed

The most accurate way to find your personality type is to take the actual Myers-Briggs Type Indicator questionnaire, and then to fine-tune the result in collaboration with a “Certified Practitioner of the MBTI.” The real MBTI is available online at themyersbriggs.com, or in a self-scorable, printed version. The real MBTI (online or printed) can be completed in about half an hour. You can consult with a Certified Practitioner of the MBTI either online or in person. However, be cautious if you explore the Internet about the MBTI. As with many other topics, there is a lot of inaccurate information available.

Your goal, in collaboration with your Certified Practitioner, is to find your “true type.” Your practitioner can give you some written descriptions of your “measured type.” Please consider them as if you were trying on a pair of shoes. Let your practitioner know whether they fit or not. If they don’t fit, tell your practitioner where they rub. That will indicate what shoes to try on next. A good way to decide whether the descriptions fit is to highlight the phrases that fit you; put an X beside the phrases that are very different from you; and leave unmarked the phrases that are neutral. If there are a lot of X’s, you probably will want to try on another pair of “shoes.”

Once you know your “true type,” you and your practitioner can look at how your personality type interacts with those of the people close to you. This is a way of appreciating your unique gifts, and the gifts of those around you. I think that you will find this exploration helpful and affirming of you and your loved ones. 

[I wish to thank Richard D. Grant, Jr., Ph.D., and Gerald P. Macdaid for teaching me the above material.] 

Written by: Catherine C. Stansbury, LMSW, supervised by Melissa L. Gould, LCSW-S. Catherine is a therapist here at Austin Family Counseling. She is an EMDR Trained Therapist specializing in trauma therapy for adults. She has a Master of Social Work from Baylor University. She is a Certified Practitioner of the MBTI, trained by The Myers & Briggs Foundation; a PAC Certified Independent Consultant, trained by the Positive Approach to Care organization; an associate member of the Aging Life Care Association; and an associate member of the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA).




EMDR 101

Maybe you have heard about EMDR and you are curious about what it is or if it may be a good fit for you? EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It essentially mimics the processing that occurs during REM sleep to help your brain reorganize and heal difficult memories and “unstick” negative beliefs. This is done by administering bi-lateral stimulation through eye movements or tappers – helping both hemispheres of your brain to “turn on” at the same time while processing a memory.

Now, if you are like me, this may sound too easy or maybe just too woo-hooey for you. I felt this way also when I first heard about EMDR… and I am a trained professional in this field! But let me bring you some support as to why this works. For the ease of understanding, let’s think of your memory network like a filing cabinet and the information your brain gathers as pieces of paper. In “normal” daily situations, our brains take in mass amounts of information and filter it through a process to collect necessary data, file it where it needs to be accessed appropriately, and gets rid of what we do not need to keep. However, when we are under threat or a high stress event occurs, the processing gets interrupted and information gets stored incorrectly. When this happens, it causes distress, flashbacks, dysfunctional beliefs, and triggers.

In a controlled manner, EMDR allows you to bring up the triggering pieces of paper, encourages the brain to look and re-identify it, and then correctly files it where it needs to go. By reprogramming the traumatic memory, you remove the upsetting emotions that come with it and it will become neutral or even positive!

Please understand that this does NOT take away experiences or make lessons learned from the event non-existent. It simply removes the real-time distress and anxious responses from it. This is still part of your story and part of what has shaped the positive aspects of who you are- but the negative effects no longer need to follow you.

EMDR is a gentle option to treatment. It is most known for working with traumatic memories, but it is also great for when you feel “stuck” and can not seem to get around harmful patterns or negative beliefs. If this is you, EMDR might be perfect to refile those papers and get you back on track!

By: Grace Shook, LPC


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