What does the research say about EMDR Therapy?

Research indicates that the eye movements used in EMDR help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. When this happens it creates a calming response. This can help decrease anxiety as the calming response is happening as the individual is calling up distressing memories. This process desensitizes individuals to the stress associated with the negative memories, resulting in diminished emotional responsiveness and increases in self-confidence and positive beliefs related to the distressing memories. The findings demonstrate that the goal-directed eye-movements used in EMDR, deactivate the amygdala, which is the core neural substrate of fear learning. In other words, EMDR helps diminish the fear response by re-wiring neural networks.

Several research studies have found that EMDR increases thalamic activation which has been shown to repair failures in cognitive processing, memory storage, emotional responses, somatic issues, and integration of experiences. That means that EMDR assists individuals in re-wiring their brain so that they can effectively integrate their distressing experiences, leading to new perspectives and belief systems.

Current research has also shown that individuals who experience chronic stress may experience panic attacks, insomnia, chronic pain, muscle tension, tension headaches, and digestive issues. These studies have shown that many individuals experience a decrease in these symptoms after participating in EMDR. Furthermore, research on the use of EMDR with individuals experiencing psychotic features found that they had a reduction in hallucinations, delusions, anxiety, and depressive symptoms following treatment.

Lastly, many studies have found evidence that EMDR is not only effective in the short term, but that individuals continue to report a reduction in symptoms long term.

If you are struggling with addiction, anxiety, ADHD, chronic pain, depression, an eating disorder, panic attacks, psychotic symptoms, PTSD, self-esteem issues, or stress related skin problem you might benefit from participating in EMDR therapy. If this intrigues you please contact WellPath Counseling to schedule a consultation at info@wellpathcounseling.com or 503-803-9545.

What is EMDR Therapy and what are its benefits?

Many of you may have heard of EMDR. EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy is an interactive psychotherapy that is done in an eight‐phase approach. It is used to relieve psychological distress by accessing and processing the memories related with the clients distressing symptoms. During EMDR the therapist assists the client in identifying and focalizing the current problems that triggered the distress, then assists them in incorporating memory templates for appropriate future actions. The therapist also assists the client in developing internal resources aimed at reshaping necessary behaviors leading to optimum emotional and physiological functioning. During EMDR therapy sessions, the client relives traumatic or distressing experiences in brief doses during which time the therapist directs the clients eye movements.

Why is EMDR effective in decreasing the symptoms associated with distressing memories?

Research indicates that traumatic memories change how the brain functions, resulting in the mind not processing information effectively. This leads to anxiety and intrusive thoughts. The theory behind why EMDR is effective is because recalling distressing events is less emotionally triggering when the individuals attention is diverted to a mindfulness activity. Research indicates that mindfulness activities can rewire the brain returning it to normal functioning. The diversion to the mindfulness activity allows the individual to be exposed to the memories or thoughts while experiencing a calm psychological response. This allows the brain to process the memories correctly and integrate them. The research indicates, that over time, EMDR lessens the impact that the memories or thoughts have on the individual.

What is an EMDR session like?

There are eight phases to EMDR treatment so sessions may vary. Treatment usually takes twelve separate sessions.

  • The first phase of treatment involves taking an extensive history and developing a comprehensive treatment plan. During these sessions the therapist gathers and reviews information related to the clients history, as well as evaluating where the client is in their healing process. During this phase specific memories are explored as potential memories for processing.
  • The second phase of treatment is the preparation phase. During this phase the therapist assists the client in strengthening their internal resources so that they can more effectively manage the emotional or physiological distress they are experiencing in response to their memories. These stress management techniques include mindfulness activities.
  • The third phase of treatment is the assessment phase where the therapist assists the client in identifying the specific memories that they wish to target. They also identify the associated symptoms, such as the physical body sensations and specific emotional responses that are activated when the client concentrates on the event.
  • Phases four through seven of treatment are where specific EMDR therapy techniques are utilized to treat the targeted memories. During these sessions the therapist will ask the client to call up a negative thought, emotion, memory, physical sensation, or image. While the client is focusing on this, the therapist will simultaneously have the client’s eyes follow the therapist’s fingers or an object they are holding as they move from side to side. As the client is following the finger or object from side to side, the therapist will instruct the client to try and let go of controlling their thoughts and instead just notice them. This focus often leads the client’s mind to go blank as they begin to distance from the recalled stimuli.The therapist may also instruct the client to do bilateral stimulation including tapping or listening to music on headphones. If the client becomes distressed, the therapist will assist them in returning to the present moment before moving on to another traumatic memory. Research indicates that over time, the distressing symptoms of a particular thought, image, or memory should start to fade.
  • Phase eight is the evaluation phase. It is generally the last phase of treatment where the client is asked to evaluate their progress. The therapist will do the same. If symptoms are still present for any negative thought, emotion, memory, physical sensation, or image, the therapist may return the client to phases four through seven of treatment. Therapy is over when the client feels that the negative thoughts, emotions, memories, physical sensations, and images no longer cause distress and they have developed the internal resources to manage new distressing experiences.

What types of issues is EMDR effective for treating?

Many believe that EMDR therapy is particularly effective for individuals who struggle to talk about their past experiences. Research indicates that individuals struggling with any of the following issues may benefit from EMDR therapy:

  • Addictons
  • Anxiety
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Chronic pain and phantom pain
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Phobias
  • Psychotic symptoms
  • PTSD
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Stress-induced flare-ups of skin problems

If you are struggling with any of the above symptoms you might benefit from participating in EMDR therapy. If this intrigues you please contact WellPath Counseling to schedule a consultation at info@wellpathcounseling.com or 503-803-9545.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness for the reduction of anxiety, chronic pain, depression, and other conditions:

What is stress?

Stress can be defined as wanting or expecting the situations we encounter to be different than we perceive them to be. Neuroscience has shown that 90% of our brain scans our environment looking for data that validates our belief systems. So if we believe the world is dangerous and overwhelming, our brain will perceive information that validates those belief system, tuning out an data that de-values those belief system.

What is mindfulness?

In short, mindfulness is the practice of increasing conscious awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions. It is accomplished by focusing on your breath and on the body sensations you are experiencing and thoughts you are having, without judgment of those sensations and thoughts. Taken one step further, mindfulness is observing what is happening in our environment without creating stories around our judgments of what we believe to be true or untrue. So mindfulness retrains our brain to not look for data that validates our current belief system, and leaves us open to perceiving more positive experiences.

What are mindfulness activities?

Mindfulness activities include any techniques employed to attain a relaxed state and awareness of the present moment. Some examples of activities include: body relaxation, breathing practice, mental imagery, guided meditations, reiki, and body and mind awareness.

How does mindfulness help with anxiety, chronic pain, depression, and other conditions?

Current research in neuroscience shows that when individuals practice mindfulness specific neurobiological structures are activated that interact closely to constitute a process of enhanced self-regulation: enhanced attention control, improved emotion regulation, and altered self-awareness. Research also shows that amygdala activation is diminished during mindfulness activities. This is important because the amygdala is responsible for triggering the stress response. Forty-seven research trials have been done which found that participants participating in mindfulness activity programs experienced less anxiety, depression, and pain.

Essentially, mindfulness activities are successful in decreasing emotion distress and chronic pain because the areas of the brain responsible for activating emotions and pain are altered and new neural pathways are created. Specifically:

The region of the brain associated with awareness of how we think is activated and an individual is able to have greater awareness of limiting thoughts and belief systems. This awareness enables them to be better able to consciously choose other ways of thinking.

In response to changing belief systems, the region of the brain responsible for processing tactile information such as touch, pain, and body awareness is activated and the neural pathways that send signals of pain are decreased and new neural pathways are created leading to less pain receptors being triggered.

The region of the brain responsible for creating memories is activated and new memories are formed supporting the shifting belief systems of the individual so that they are better able to perceive positive experiences rather than negative experiences.

The region of the brain responsible for self-regulation, emotional regulation, attention, and self-control is stimulated and calmed so that the individual is better able to respond to the environmental triggers with increased self-awareness leading to better emotion regulation, ability to focus and concentrate, and increased control of behavioral responses to triggering stimuli.

The area of the brain that tracts the communication between the right and left hemisphere is activated leading to increased communication between both hemisphere. These leads to more accurate interpretation of environmental stimuli and bodily sensations which leads to more adaptive emotional responses and less reactive, self-defeating thoughts.

Why is reiki an effective treatment for mental health issues?

As a marriage and family therapist, who is also a Reiki Master, I have made it a priority to understand the scientific research behind various approaches so I can explain to my clients what options are available and how these options might aid in their healing. I have had many colleagues who are reiki practitioner’s ask me how to talk to their clients about the benefits of reiki for mental health issues. As I spend a great deal of time reading research studies, I have been able to provide an explanation to my colleagues. As this has come up on several occasions, I thought it might be information that clients and potential clients might be interested in. So here is a basic break down of the research on the benefits of reiki for mental health issues from a neuroscience perspective. This is important as it helps us understand how reiki actually changes the body and brain.

 

Various scientific research has revealed that the vagus nerve plays an important role in mediating the mutual interactions between the brain and the body. The vagus nerve is located below the lungs in the abdomen, so when we take deep, relaxed breaths, the vagus nerve is stimulated. Research has also shown that the vagus nerve assists in regulating “the health of the body, including inflammatory responses, glucose regulation, and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function.” (Reiki Is Better Than Placebo and Has Broad Potential as a Complementary Health Therapy, David E. McManus, PhD; J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017 Oct; 22(4): 1051–1057.) This is important to understand because under stress, we are more likely to take shallow breaths which leads to increased heart rate because the vagus nerve is not being stimulated. When our heart rate increases the autonomic nervous system is activated sending us into a state of distress. You have probably heard of the fight, flight, or freeze response. This response is activated when the autonomic nervous system is triggered. If triggered often enough it can affect the health of the body and mind.

 

Science has further revealed that the autonomic nervous system is responsible for emotional expression and social behavior. This is important to understand because a “compromised autonomic nervous system, as characterized by reduced heart rate variability, is associated with cognitive and affective dysregulation, and psychological inflexibility, which are major psychological risk factors” for chronic pain, chronic anxiety, and depression. (Reiki Is Better Than Placebo and Has Broad Potential as a Complementary Health Therapy) Basically this means that under stress our body struggles to regulate itself, and when triggered often enough can lead to mental health issues and chronic pain. This is because we begin to believe that the world is a dangerous place.

 

You might be wondering what this information has to do with Reiki? Well, if a compromised autonomic nervous system and vagus nerve lead to physical and emotional distress, than regulating these systems, would lead to better regulation of emotional responses, development of healthy coping strategies, increased positive emotions, and social connectedness. This is supported by scientific studies that have shown that “artificial stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system via the vagus nerve has been shown to reduce the perception of pain, reduce depression, and improve mood and quality of life. (Reiki Is Better Than Placebo and Has Broad Potential as a Complementary Health Therapy) During reiki, the client experiences a meditative state of calm where their breath slows and deepens, stimulating the vagus nerve, which in turn slows their heart rate, activating the parasympathetic nervous system and deactivating the autonomic nervous system. So reiki assists the body is regulating itself.

 

You might be thinking, well it makes sense that during reiki the individual is able to be in a relaxed state body, but how does this benefit them long-term and heal their body and brain? Well, stress can be defined as wanting or expecting the situations we encounter to be different than we perceive them to be. Neuroscience has shown that 90% of our brain, scans our environment looking for data that validates our belief systems. So if we believe the world is dangerous and overwhelming, our brain will perceive information that validates our belief system, tuning out any data that de-values our belief system. So we are perceiving the world in a way that leads to further stress.

 

Mindfulness is the practice of increasing conscious awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions. Current research in neuroscience shows that when individuals practice mindfulness the neural pathways in their brain actually began to re-wire. So being mindful can assist our brain in changing our belief systems leading to enhanced attention control, improved emotion regulation, and altered self-awareness. As reiki takes the individual into a state of mindfulness, reiki is actually helping the neural pathways in the brain to re-wire so that the client’s belief systems begin to change and they are able to perceive the world in a more positive manner. The more an individual practices a state of mindfulness, the faster their brain will re-wire and their belief systems will change. So we should practice reiki daily because reiki re-wires our brain to perceive more joy, more connection to self-compassion and love, and a sense of peace.

 

I hope that this helps you better understand how the body and mind work from a scientific approach and how when viewed from a scientific perspective you can actually see how reiki may lead to long-term healing of the body, mind, and spirit.

Why an Integrative Approach? Healing the mind, body, spirit simultaneously

What is healing? New research in neuroscience is beginning to aid us in understanding the importance of not separating the mind from the body or the soul/spirit from the mind. Current research in neuroscience is providing insight that the physical body remembers what the mind cannot.

Neuroscience is showing that the physical body responds to trauma and can become stuck in a loop of heightened arousal. Trauma creates a bodily fixation where individuals experience a freezing in time. In this state the past and present collide because the body is remembering the past trauma and is physiologically aroused because the body wants to complete the natural cycle that it wasn’t able to complete because the trauma interrupted it. When an individual is in a heightened state their perception of danger is heightened and they are more likely to perceive threat when there isn’t one and then respond to that perceived threat ineffectively. So the body continues to become over-charged and hyper-aroused. The autonomic nervous system takes over because it never had the opportunity to discharge. Neuroscience is assisting us in understanding that the body needs to physically discharge the held energy in order to move past the trauma and move into homeostasis.

As neuroscience is assisting us in understanding how trauma affects the body, we are seeing the importance of integrating somatic work into traditional psycho-therapy. Here at WellPath Counseling we have clinician (specifically Allison Batty-Capps) whose work to assist individuals in reconnecting to their body to understand what needs to be released, teaching them how to martial resources to calm the body so they can re-learn how to live in a relaxed state body. Once they have mastered how to pendulate between a tense body and a relaxed state body consciously, I assist them in making conscious connection to unconscious memories (implicit or actual) in order to aid them in fully understand and healing from their experiences. I do this using a combination of mindfulness techniques, somatic techniques, relaxation techniques utilizing reiki energy healing, expressive arts, and psycho-therapy.