Letting go of the past
One of the many reasons clients come into therapy is to let go of the past. Sometimes, things that have happened can be overwhelming, and even though they happened some time ago, it can be like they are still present in your life right now. Perhaps you find yourself triggered by sounds, situations or people, or perhaps you have thoughts that continually intrude on you that really belong somewhere in your past.
When you are stuck with unwelcome memories, thoughts, feelings or body sensations, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) can be a useful approach to help you let go and to begin to respond to what is happening right here and now. The National Institute of Clinical Excellence recognise EMDR as an effective approach for people who are experiencing symptoms of trauma, it is also helpful for those of us who feel stuck with reactions and patterns that we are not able to free just by thinking differently.
In his book The Body Keeps the Score, Vessel Van Der Kolk explores the way that traumatic memories are stored in our bodies and brains. He talks about EMDR as an approach that can restore our engagement, commitment and feeling that we are in control when we might be experiencing past memories as stuck, undigested and raw. This, he argues, is because these memories are not just stored in our mind, they are embodied in our body and brain, and it is from here that we need to release them.
EMDR makes this shift possible by freeing something up in the brain that activates new images, feelings and thoughts while we have in mind the past events that are still distressing us. As best as it is currently understood, EMDR activates a series of sensations, emotions images and thoughts that we may not have known were related to the distress we are experiencing, and in doing so it lets us organise our memories differently. Instead of having fragments that intrude or make no sense, EMDR enables a client to reassemble memories into new integrated packages. This means that the client can lay the memory to rest, leaving them able to function day to day based on what is happening now.
Clients often find the EMDR process deeply moving, and more than a little curious. Changing long-held patterns can feel uncomfortable to begin with as habitual patterns change. I am often struck by the difference it makes when client's insights during EMDR enable them to move on with their lives.
If you find yourself stuck repeating patterns that you no longer want, or have been affected by trauma, talk to your therapist or GP about treatment options, which may include EMDR.
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