Have you been impacted by a traumatic event, or history of trauma within childhood? As counselors, we find that most people have been touched by trauma, in one way or another. Whether that is a “Big T” trauma such as a natural disaster or experience of abuse, or a “Little T” trauma such as a history of harmful relational disruption, unprocessed memories may be affecting your day-to-day functioning in more ways than you realize.

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a form of therapy developed in 1987 by Psychologist and Researcher Francine Shapiro. She asserts that the human brain has amazing capacity for transforming lived experiences into adaptive information for learning, growth, and wisdom. This processing of information typically occurs naturally; however, traumatic experiences often get “frozen” in the memory network, with sensory data (images, emotions, beliefs, cognitions, and somatic sensations) elevated and strong. These “stuck” memories do not process effectively into adaptive material, and instead generate maladaptive symptoms experienced by individuals in present life.

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For example, a person who experiences an adverse life event such as a natural disaster may have a “frozen” memory of water rushing into their home, their body clamming up with sweat and tension, panic and despair washing over them, and the belief, “I am in danger.” Even after this experience passes, and their home is physically repaired, this “stuck” memory may stay with them, causing them to feel afraid throughout daily life. They may avoid taking risks or trying new things, leading to depression or isolation. They may operate as if they are in danger constantly, due to this unprocessed memory “pinging” into the here-and-now, creating disruption. Even though the event is over, they still live as if the threat is current and active.

EMDR targets these unprocessed memories by going into the memory network, reactivating the elevated components, and accelerating processing so that the “stuck” information can resolve. Research has shown that rapid, bilateral (right to left) stimulation, including but not limited to eye movements, can accelerate the adaptive information processing system. By re-accessing the maladaptively stored information, and reprocessing in a safe environment, the brain can release the distress and disturbance associated with the trauma. The experience can then be linked with the wisdom and understanding of the client’s adaptive resources, integrating the “frozen” memory with the wider network of experiences held by the individual. The client can then resume normal functioning without constant reminder and disruption from the traumatic experience.

EMDR does not erase negative memories; rather, the therapy works to reduce the disturbance associated, so that pain is not currently experienced in the present moment. A new belief or cognition can then be installed, based on the reality of the client’s current safety and stability. EMDR uses imaginal visualizations and cognitive rehearsals to build internal resources, allowing the client to overcome present triggers, and increasing the likelihood of confidence, peace, and wisdom in future scenarios.

If you’re experiencing flashbacks, inability to relax, difficulty connecting with others, sleep disturbance, or intrusive thoughts related to a previous experience, EMDR might be right for you. You don’t have to be stuck forever, restoration and healing is possible.

Interested in learning more? Contact Sheltering Oaks today at (813) 982-4230 to schedule an intake appointment.

Shapiro, F. (2018). Eye Movement Desensitization and Processing (EMDR) Therapy: Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures (3rd ed.) The Guilford Press.


If you would like to speak with one of us to learn more about our therapy services, please call Sheltering Oaks Counseling Center at 813-982-4230 and set up an appointment.

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Other Mental Health Services at Sheltering Oaks Counseling

Your family may need help in more than one way. At Sheltering Oaks Counseling, we want to meet the mental health needs of every member of your family. Therefore, we offer a number of  mental health services at our Wesley Chapel, FL based therapy clinic.  For example, our therapists offer Christian counselingcounseling for young adults, therapy for cancer survivors and trauma therapy. We also have marriage counseling, family therapy, play therapy, and counseling for ministers. Not only can we help you in our Tampa area counseling offices, but we can also work with you anywhere in the state with online therapy in Florida.

Additionally, we offer several types of testing services, including neuropsychological testing, ADHD testing, psychoeducational evaluationGifted testing, and more. Finally, our specialty services for veterans and parents as IEP advocates can help you too! We would love to connect when you are ready to reach out.


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