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Trauma and EMDR Therapy

Want to learn more about EMDR therapy? In the video below EMDR Certified Therapist Durel Williams, MSW RSW discusses trauma and how EMDR therapy is used to treat maladaptive and dysfunctionally stored memories.

Transctipt: Trauma and EMDR Therapy

What is EMDR Therapy?

You may be wondering “what is EMDR therapy ?” Well, EMDR therapy is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy. It uses the brain’s adaptive information processing system to reduce distress associated with cognitive, emotional, and somatic (or physical) symptoms of trauma. It does this by prompting bilateral stimulation of the brain, sometimes using eye movement (from left to right) or sound in either ear, or taps or buzzers on either side of the body. It simulates rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep, during which our brains engage in information processing, organizing and integrating our thoughts and perceptions.


What is Trauma?

It helps if we have a better understanding of what trauma is in order understand how EMDR is used. Trauma in the context of our mental health is the psychological injury resulting from an event or series of events, and from which we experience an altered, typically dysfunctional way of thinking, feeling or behaving. Contrary to popular belief, risk of trauma isn’t dependent on the nature or scale of the event, or how bad it was. Trauma is actually about how we perceives the experience; the meaning we took away from the experience. It’s about the narrative that frames our sense of safety, responsibility, or choice. This is why a seemingly innocuous event can sometimes feel more traumatic than another that would more obviously be deemed harmful.

Why do trauma symptoms occur?

We are wired for survival; we are designed to thrive. Every experience is stored in memory to help us learn, adapt and evolve. When threatening events occur, everything about the experience is stored in memory: the sensory features (what we saw, smelled, heard, and so on), as well as our body’s autonomic responses (muscles tensing, increased heart rate…you get the idea). Our perceptions of the experience during or immediately after the experience is also stored in memory. As distressing as it sometimes feels, these experiences becoming part of our memory serves a necessary function: to help us survive. By immediately recalling the danger associated with unpleasant experiences, our brain sets in motion a series of processes that help us feel safe from, or cope with danger. That’s what we experience as “triggers”.

Sometimes, though, our danger response system works a little too well. In that, we have become so efficient in sensing and reacting to danger, we end up having these reactions even when they aren’t warranted. In other words, the collection of sensory, perceptive, and autonomic responses hasn’t adapted to real time. The past becomes the present. The problem is, if this keeps happening, we can’t take in and process new information, new contexts, new realities. We will constantly feel and believe that the danger from our past is happening right now. But it keeps happening because whenever we are activated or triggered, it’s hard to engage in rational, logical thinking. It’s just how our brains work.

How can EMDR therapy help with trauma?

EMDR helps to reduce the unpleasant and distressing symptoms associated with being triggered and reprocesses old experiences, while allowing for the integration of new information or insights that were previously inaccessible (due to the distress). However, it does this more efficiently, tapping into the brains natural way of processing information, and it does so in a much shorter time than it would if one were to only talk about the experience.


The eight-phase protocol entails the reprocessing of experiences based on how we perceive our past, present and future. In treatment we address past events upon which our present day realities and future outlook are based. In all stages of the process you are supported with healthy strategies and skills to ensure you’re feeling safe, stable and ready to engage hard memories.

Dealing with trauma or any difficult experience is not only hard, it’s disruptive. And I know our impulse is to avoid hard things. But it’s not a path you have to walk alone. You can experience healing through safe and effective treatment with a qualified and competent therapist.

If you would like to book a consultation, you can call 426-688-5274, or book online at

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