Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, EMDR for short, is a trauma therapy. I occasionally use this as a couple intervention, when infidelity, or some other kind of trauma is part of your story. More about that below.
Recall a distressing event in your life. Can you still feel the anxiety, the fear and confusion in an intense way? Have past events impacted your self-esteem and your relationships? If your answer is “yes,” then your brain has stored that emotional input as unprocessed “frozen” fragments instead of as integrated and resolved memories.
Later, when the upsetting events are recalled, they carry with them a (sometimes) surprising sense of heightened distress. These upsetting events can be powerful enough to negatively influence the way you interpret the world and relate to others.
EMDR helps to resolve those “fragments” — store them away in an orderly, healthy fashion. You won’t forget the past, but you will develop a perspective where past events stop haunting the present. Self-esteem is enhanced, relationships improve, emotions stabilize.
A few of my clients have given me permission to write about their experience when I used EMDR with them as part of their treatment:
A Typical Session
Couples Counselling and EMDR
I’ve used EMDR with couples in a number of circumstances: anxiety about sexual performance concerns (specifically vaginismus and ejaculation issues), challenging childhood events such as physical or sexual abuse, or other difficult life events.
Most often I use EMDR in couple’s counselling when infidelity is part of the couple’s story. In situations of infidelity a betrayed partner will frequently have trauma symptoms: nightmares, anxiety, flashbacks distressing and all-consuming thoughts. EMDR can help with symptom reduction.
…the affair happened a number of years ago and we’ve worked very hard to repair our marriage. But I felt so guilty, and he just couldn’t get the picture of me and his best friend out of his mind. I was kind of skeptical when (our counsellor) told us about EMDR and suggested we talk to you. After first talking to you I was still pretty skeptical. But (my husband) wanted to go ahead.
“…anyway the first few sessions I couldn’t tell the difference really. And then one day after one of your meetings he told me he thought the ‘spell’ had finally broken. He was right. He’s really different now. The flashbacks have stopped. We still have a lot of problems to work through but we’re not stuck anymore…
Exactly when EMDR is used as part of couple’s counselling is a decision between you, your partner and myself. Sometimes both partners are present when I use EMDR with one partner. Sometimes not. EMDR is generally not a beginning treatment intervention at Couples In Step. Someday I’ll write more about that in a blog post.
Who Provides EMDR Treatment?
Couples In Step therapist Irene Oudyk-Suk is a trained and certified EMDR therapist with the Canadian EMDR branch as well as the international EMDR organization. To maintain my status as a certified EMDR therapist I am required to participate in regular and approved EMDRIA training programs.
EMDR is a powerful tool, so it is important that the therapist be properly trained and certified. EMDR therapists are trained to consider the various factors that make for a positive treatment outcome. A trained therapist knows how to gently support you throughout the treatment.
How Does it Work?
When a person is very distressed, the brain’s normal information processing system is interrupted. Exactly how EMDR works with the brain’s information processing system is not completely understood.
Bilateral (left-right) stimulation of the brain may help the client attend to both the memory and the visual (or kinesthetic, tactile or auditory) stimuli that the therapist provides. EMDR is thought to stimulate the brain’s operating system in the same way that the brain functions naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
EMDR has been around since the late 1980’s. Research is ongoing and to date there is more controlled outcome research to support it than any other treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
EMDR is not a treatment for biological/neurological issues such as bipolar disease or attention deficit disorder. However, it can be used to lessen the negative self-esteem such conditions often foster.
If you’d like to learn more, there is plenty of information on the web. Just google (be sure to check out YouTube as well). The following websites provide information (including research information):
For more information or to schedule an appointment call Couples In Step at 416-459-0956, or email Couples In Step.