EMDR: What Is It?
EMDR, which is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing abbreviated, is a trauma therapy. Couples In Step therapists occasionally use this as a couple intervention, when infidelity, or some other kind of trauma is part of your story.
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 Typical EMDR Session
EMDR at Couples In Step
Irene has 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 this intervention is used with couples 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 and how EMDR is used as part of couple’s counselling is a decision between you, your partner and your therapist. Sometimes both partners are present. Sometimes only one partner attends. This 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?
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.
Irene Oudyk-Suk and Lori Canlas De Pala are trained and certified EMDR therapists with the Canadian EMDR branch as well as the international EMDR organization. Certified therapists receive rigorous training and to maintain certification status they are required to participate in regular and approved EMDRIA training programs.
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.
Nearly Every Couple Faces Challenges
Sometimes the difficulties can get so over whelming they can make both of you feel helpless. In our stress-filled, anxiety-driven lives it helps to talk with a professional about your relationship. Couples In Step offers a variety of services to help couples repair and revive their relationship: in-person counselling, on-line counselling, 3-day intensive couples counselling for couples in crisis, weekend couples retreats, discernment counselling for couples where one, or both of you, are uncertain about continuing the relationship.