If you would have asked me a few months ago, I would have probably guessed that EMDR was a new Briggs Meyer personality type or perhaps a type of kinky fetish I had never heard of. I would have been way off.
It wasn’t until a conversation I had with a close friend, who just happens to be an EMDR therapist, that I started to learn about it. So, what exactly is EDMR? It stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. In some ways it’s similar to hypnotherapy – both attempt to distract the conscious mind to elicit subconscious and suppressed memories and/or feelings. EMDR then provides an opportunity to reprocess these memories and feelings in a healthier, more mature way. Essentially, EMDR aims to re-wire your brain.
I am no expert on EMDR therapy but I was able to talk to someone who is – Candra Savage, LSW. She was able to fill me in on all the important details. Here’s how she answered my most pressing questions:
What is EMDR?
EMDR is a therapy that believes negative beliefs, emotions, and mental unrest is due to unprocessed past events. When we experience something bad or feel under threat at a young age, often times our mind/body is in survival mode, meaning we are not able to fully take in and metabolize the event or events. EMDR uses bilateral movement with the eyes or body (alternating left and right) to gain access to these past events or body states in order to allow the mind/body to safely integrate them so the mind/body can metabolize it and move on healthily.
Who can benefit from EMDR?
EMDR could honestly be for almost anyone. But primarily for those who suffer from any chronic emotional, mental, or somatic issues. With this therapeutic practice, the root cause of these issues is thoughtfully discovered and resolved. It has long been hailed as a healing method for PTSD but is being truly seen in recent years as an approach for relational wounds, adverse experience, negative beliefs about the self and the world and trauma of almost any kind. If you have been considering therapy, I strongly encourage you to consider EMDR. As a person who has experienced first hand the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual alignment AND as a provider who witnesses people gain this integration on a regular basis, I make it my first recommendation. Science is helping us understand the complexity of the mind and body and EMDR is on the cutting edge of this knowledge. Unending gratitude to Francine Shapiro, the daring woman who pioneered this therapy and her commitment to healing.
Candra Savage is a licensed social worker in Red Bank, NJ
So, why am I even talking about this?
Through my work with providing medical care to the LGBTQ community, I have found that many of us have suffered from some type of trauma in our lives. Whether it be an abusive relationship, being bullied when you were a kid, being misgendered or being kicked out of your home when you came out of the closet, trauma comes in many forms.
Being LGBTQ can be inherently traumatic for many. In Alan Down’s book The Velvet Rage: Growing up Gay in a Straight World, he states “The damaging part of learning to live your life in two parts , whether in reality or fantasy, cannot be underestimated. It is an infectious skill that you learned, one that would eventually spread beyond the bedroom of your life. Life wasn’t ever what it seemed on the surface. Nothing could be trusted for what it appeared to be. After all, you weren’t what you appeared to be. In learning to hide part of yourself, you lost the ability to trust anything or anyone fully. Without knowing it, you traded humane innocence for dry cynicism.” Spot on, Alan!
It is this shared trauma that allows me to connect with my patients on many levels. As a gay man who grew up in southern West Virginia, an area where being different in any way made life particularly challenging, I often found myself on the outside looking in. Fear of being outed and disappointing my deeply religious father (who just happened to be a pentecostal minister) left me in a constant state of unease.
No where felt safe.
No one felt safe.
Life was not easy and many of us probably share a similar story.
And, we wonder why we have such high rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide in our community.
We are remarkably resourceful as children – we are brave, courageous and have the will to survive. Though, the coping mechanisms we develop as children to survive the trauma we endure are likely not the same coping mechanisms we should employ as adults. Think about it. They are probably not serving us in the healthiest of ways. So, how do we reprogram – or reprocess – this trauma to create new, healthy coping mechanisms?
That’s the goal of EMDR!
To find an EMDR therapist in your area, start here.
Jeremiah Robinson is a licensed and certified physician assistant in Atlanta, GA