If something traumatic has happened to you (whether it be a car accident, abuse or something seemingly less significant like being humiliated), the memory of your experience may come crashing back into your mind, forcing you to relive the original event with the same intensity of feeling – like it is taking place in the present moment.
These experiences that pop into your awareness may present themselves as either flashbacks or nightmares, and are thought to occur because the mind was simply too overwhelmed during the event to process what was going on.
As a result, these unprocessed memories and the accompanying sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings are stored in the brain in ‘raw’ form, where they can be accessed each time we experience something that triggers a recollection of the original event.
While it isn’t possible to erase these memories, the process of EMDR therapy can alter the way these traumatic memories are stored within the brain – making them easier to manage and causing you less distress.
Old, distressing memories can be stored in the brain in isolation. They get locked into the nervous system with the original memories, sounds, smells, tastes, thoughts and feelings involved. The old distressing material just keeps getting triggered over and over again as described above. This prevents learning/healing taking place. In another part of your brain, you already have most of the information you need to resolve this problem. The two just cannot connect. Once EMDR therapy starts, a linking takes place. New information can come to mind and resolve the old problems. This may be what happens spontaneously in REM or dream sleep when eye movements help to process unconscious material.
Our lead psychologist Colin Matthews trained in EMDR with Dr Manda Holmshaw and uses it as appropriate in his trauma work.