For those who have followed the blog for a while, you might know I mostly work as a trauma therapist, and that I use, among other methods, EMDR to integrate traumatic memories. EMDR stands for eye movement and desensitization and reprocessing.That is a long and complicated name that basically means that you move the eyes back and forth, while you think about a stressful memory at the same. I will try to explain this a bit more, but we got to remember that we still don`t know exactly why it works (the best article is still
EMDR: A putative neurobiological mechanism of action, 2002) according to “Robbie” who I emailed just to be sure I was not missing important literature.
Why so little research on EMDR?
In the health sector we sometimes see that doctors only prescribe meds without offering alternative treatments. This happens far too often considering that several studies have shown that medicines work better if supplemented with psychological treatment. Some of the arguments for using medicine, is that it takes less time to prescribe a pill, than give everyone therapy. Of course, this is true in the short time, but what about the long-term effects? Some of the EMDR studies so far, shows that it is an effective method for treating traumatic material. In some cases, it can take just 1-2 hours to make a memory (like from a traumatic accident) bearable. When a doctor told me how much it costs to transfer a suicidal patient from her home to the hospital, I had to shake my head in disbelief. Why isn`t it obvious that using more time like the patients say they need, actually reduce costs in the long-term? I could discuss in length what I think about the system and how it uses its research funds, but it won`t help you in understanding what EMDR is all about. This post will continue with exploring more of EMDR.
Sleep and EMDR
Even if we have studied sleep since mankind noticed its dreams, there is still no certain answer to why we dream. We know that it is vital for our general health, that is likely connected to memory consolidation and that, without it, we are more prone to accidents. But again, we cannot say for certain why. We also know that the eye movements while in REM have something in common with the eye movements that we make in EMDR. What’s so interesting is that a scientist found that flashbacks—the remembrance of the events from these films—are much lower if people have been sleep deprived. And of course this has real implications for post-traumatic stress disorder; what one normally does with post-traumatic stress is put people to sleep, encourage them to sleep and what that will do is, it seems, combine the memories of these unpleasant events rather than help the brain forget them.
I had a casual conversation with a psychiatrist in an elevator in a hospital when I was still working in London. He said: “Well, everyone knows that patients with schizophrenia have terrible sleep, but of course they have terrible sleep. It’s because they don’t have a job, and so they go to bed late, get up late, miss my clinics, don’t have friends.”
I thought that was a very odd thing to say and that it didn’t make sense. Then I started looking into it and realized that people have been talking about people with really disrupted sleep with mental illness since the 1880s. So it’s a well-described phenomenon, but largely ignored. When people did start thinking about it in the 1970s, they assumed that the abnormal sleep was a result of the antipsychotics that were being introduced at the time, but of course ignoring the fact that for the previous 100 years people had been talking about poor sleep without any antipsychotics. And then the other argument was that it is not the antipsychotics — it’s because of the socialized relations.
EMDR and reading
Like I said earlier, a lot is still not known about EMDR. Many doctors shake their heads in disbelief because there still is little research on it, and some are skeptical. Skepticism is healthy, of course, but at the same time; Openness to new possibilities is equally important. If no one questioned the status quo, the world would never change.
Just like muscles, the brain benefits from a good workout. And reading is more neurobiological demanding than processing images or speech. As you’re absorbing, say, this article, “parts of the brain that have evolved for other functions—such as vision, language, and associative learning—connect in a specific neural circuit for reading, which is very challenging,” says Ken Pugh. A study from the Netherlands, also shows that reading can make us feel empathy towards other, and empathy is a key ingredient for “reading others mind”. Many studies show that mentalization and empathy often are connected to each other. The better you are able to find different meanings behind people`s behavior, the easier it is to feel good about oneself. I remember my own experiences as a student. Reading social psychology, and realizing how little people actually notice about others, since mostly they walk around in their own thoughts, there is no real reason to be too stressed about how one behaves. After seeing programs, and hearing lectures about how con artist use this inattention on purpose, I am convinced in the truth of the thing we say to clients with social anxiety: Most people simply do not notice small things like the hand shaking, or staring blankly out in the air. I have also been an eager reader since I put my eyes on a page and understood its meaning, and what I have always felt, is that I cannot judge the truth of things, since there are so many different truths out there, none of them more “real” than others. This makes me calm. I know some will hate what I write, and some will like it. How people judge this, depends on their ways of seeing the world, and has little to do with me. I cannot say for certain if the back and forth movements of the eyes while reading, are a funny coincidence, or if there really is some element of calming and integration in it, but I know it would be interesting to research it further.
Brain lateralization and mood
So, what do we know about how our brain works, and might this help to explain EMDR? For me it makes perfect sense to integrate what I know about the brain, with what I do in therapy. Did you for example know, that different sides of the brain are connected to different moods? The left site of the brain is often connected to good mood, and the right to negative mood. The right is also connected to more artistic abilities, and the left more to “logical” tasks and to language. Did you know that women have a thicker “bridge” that connect the right to the left brain? The right “feels” more and the left “understands” things. The video shows how a woman who has experienced a stroke to one site of the brain, and how that feels.
Moreover, one of the most acknowledged neuroscientists got the chance to monitor the brain activity of dalai lama, and discovered that the waves in one side of his brain, were 30 times stronger than in normal students normal students. He later showed that people could train themselves through meditation, to show similar patterns. Meditation is an important part of Mindfulness, another type of psychological treatment, that many use today. What I like about EMDR, is how it connects many of the former thoughts and ideas into ONE theory that makes sense. Can it be that EMDR is just one way to move from an emotional state to a more “logic” state in a way that give us peace at mind? I feel that the answer is not so far away. I have been in intense emotions myself, and even if it can be lovely when its good, it can also be too much, in other times. Can EMDR be one of the mediators, that helps us live a good life even after experiencing something truly terrible?
There is still no definitive answer to my question: How does EMDR work. I hope that this has still been interesting to read, and maybe spurred people`s curiosity. I will write more on this subject later, and a lot of new knowledge will probably be collected in the years to come. I will continue to put pieces together, both in my life and others. Because the truth is: We function best when we feel whole.
On Sleep: Brooke Borel : August 14, 2013 at 2:30 pm EDT
ESTHER ENTIN, OCT 26 2011, 11:06 AM ET
- EMDR Treats Past Traumas and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (arosen1980.wordpress.com)
- From Poverty To Mental Illness: An Infographic (zerohedge.com)
- http://conniehoward.wordpress.com/tag/lateralization-of-brain-function/PLOS ONE
- Can Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a psychotherapy technique, accelerate healing in survivors of domestic violence? After a review of current research and a little personal experience, the short answer is, yes. (ywcamontereycounty.wordpress.com)
- What EMDR Feels Like (emdrwarrior.wordpress.com)
- Medication is not taken
- what E.M.D.R. therapy is like
- The ECONOMIC COST OF Child ABUSE TO SOCIETY
- EMDR To Reduce Post-Divorce Conflict (denvercounselingblog.wordpress.com)