Keep the learning, not the disturbance

by EMDR Australia
Dr. Gillian Maddock

In our latest post on the “Reflections on EMDR” blog we explore how EMDR assists the brain in processing and integrating traumatic memories, lowering emotional distress while preserving the important lessons learned.

Q: Does EMDR erase traumatic memories?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an effective therapy for treating trauma and a broad range of other presentations that are associated with trauma.

Trauma, in EMDR, is considered any adverse event that “leaves a mark on the psyche” according to developer Francine Shapiro.  EMDR helps the brain process and integrate traumatic memories adaptively, reducing emotional disturbance while most importantly retaining the learning from those experiences.

Traumatic events can cause memories to become stuck in the brain’s neural network, leading to persistent distress. EMDR reactivates these memories and facilitates their processing, diminishing their emotional charge.

The therapy involves eight phases, with bilateral stimulation (like guided eye movements) being used in 3 phases. During this process, the patient focuses on the traumatic memory enough to activate the information held within it, and then directing their attention to engaging in bilateral stimulation, allowing the brain to reprocess the memory, without painful prolonged exposure to detail. This helps the brain integrate the traumatic memory with existing adaptive information, reorganizing the memory and reducing its emotional impact.

Importantly, EMDR does not erase memories. Instead, it changes how the memory is stored in the brain. The traumatic event can be recalled without the intense negative emotions previously associated with it. This adaptive integration allows individuals to retain the lessons learned from their experiences, fostering resilience and emotional well-being.

What begins as a trauma, when reprocessed, becomes a resource that has been survived and learnt from.

EMDR training can be undertaken by a range of clinical disciplines. I invite you to join us in learning EMDR. Course details and eligibility can be found on our EMDR training page.

Have more questions about EMDR?  Read some of our previous blog posts or head over to our page of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)! or

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