What is Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing? (EMDR)
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that helps people who have suffered from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.
Life events are stored in our memory. Sometimes when a traumatic event happens to you, your memory of that experience can become locked away inside your brain, often with the same distressing emotions, sensations, and thoughts of the original experience. When something happens to you that triggers that experience, you may re-experience the same feelings and sensations in your body, in effect reliving the memory as if it were in the present. For some, the re-experiencing can be mildly distressing though for others the emotional pain can be overwhelming and unbearable.
Often it is assumed that deep emotional pain takes a very long time to overcome. Numerous studies have shown that EMDR therapy assists the mind in healing from psychological trauma, just as your body naturally heals itself from physical trauma. For example, when you get a splinter, it festers and causes pain. Your body works to push out the foreign object and once it has, the natural healing your body already knows how to do occurs. EMDR therapy works in much the same way, allowing your brain to process information naturally and move toward healing. If our brains are blocked by traumatic events, the emotional wound festers and causes suffering. Remove the block and healing follows.
EMDR has been studied so extensively that the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization, and the Department of Defense recognize it as an effective form of treatment for trauma. Studies have shown that by comparison, EMDR therapy not only works better than Prozac or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in terms of relieving symptoms but also after 12 weeks of follow-up, traumatic symptoms did not return. EMDR has been shown to be effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias as well as the “everyday” experiences that have led to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and the negative thoughts associated with feeling defective, powerless, or unsafe—any number of issues that bring individuals in for therapy.
Emotionally traumatic wounds are not just “unblocked,” or closed, but the trauma that has festered has been pushed out and healing happens. Clients who successfully conclude EMDR therapy sessions have a sense of empowerment over their past experiences that at one time defeated them. The sensations, emotions, thoughts, and images associated with the debilitating event or events are no longer experienced when a person brings the trauma to mind.
Scientific research has established EMDR as effective for post-traumatic stress. However, clinicians also have reported success using EMDR in the treatment of the following conditions:
Visual Journaling: Health Promotion through Art and Drawing
Learn more about Elizabeth Warson,PhD, ATR-BC, LPC, NCC, EMDR II by visiting her website HERE.
WHAT IS VISUAL JOURNALING?
Visual journaling [also called art or drawing journaling] has been identified as both an important and accessible approach in expressive arts therapy, counseling, and education. It is not only an effective method for stress reduction, but also is considered a creative way to express personal narratives and life stories as well as make meaning through images, creative writing, and story sharing.
WHY COMBINE IMAGES WITH WORDS?
In a comparative study on the efficacy of art and writing therapy on stress reduction, Pizarro (2004) noted that the combined effects of art therapy and writing demonstrated more significant positive changes in terms of perceived levels of stress than writing alone.
HISTORY OF VISUAL JOURNALING
Visual records of thoughts and daily life have been maintained throughout history. Petroglyphs (rock carvings) and pictographs (rock paintings) are the oldest forms of symbolic language representing complex cultural meanings often layered over time. Japanese 10thcentury “pillow books” were private written and visual journals (collection) depicting personal thoughts, feelings, and reflections about court life (Kasahara, 2017). Indigenous methods of recording historical events are also typified in the Lakota Winter Counts: a storyteller creates a pictograph for every year (snowfall to snowfall) on hide or cloth (Atka Lakota Museum & Cultural Center, n.d.).
BENEFITS OF VISUAL JOURNALING
There are a number of proven health benefits correlated with visual journaling or artmaking. For instance, engaging in brief artmaking has been shown to enhance immunity and decrease cortisol levels (Lorance & Warson, 2012; Hayes et al., unpublished raw data). Although, many of these benefits can be transferred to the effects of the visual journaling process, research on the specific effects of visual journaling demonstrated a decrease in anxiety levels and negative affect (Mercer et al., 2010).
In a 2012 study with southeastern tribal elders, visual journaling was sustained over a two-month period with a 95% response rate among 26 participants (Warson, 2012). Preliminary data analysis indicated a preference for depicting every-day life events such as picking peas in the garden, designing quilt patterns, as well as references to family and spirituality. These preliminary findings suggest that mindfulness-based awareness was evident in the re-experiencing of important daily tasks and events. As a result, there is growing evidence for visual journaling as a promising intervention for stress reduction.
GUIDELINES FOR VISUAL JOURNALING
For maximum benefit, choose a consistent time of day to work in your journal. Keep a small container of favorite art supplies close by in addition to a small travel case. Health benefits such as increased dopamine and serotonin production can be achieved after five minutes of sustained visual journaling (Zaidel, 2014).
Research on visual journaling has demonstrated that a self-directed approach is just as beneficial as using specific prompts (Mercer et al., 2010). Create your own approach and vary it as your awareness grows. For example, visual journaling process over a period of time can elicit new themes as broad as your depiction of wellness. Mindfulness-based practices are also a natural fit with visual journaling.
Suggested visual journaling exercises
Create a symbol of how you feel in the present moment and write one word to describe this feeling.
Create a symbol of your day and write one word to describe your day.
If you are having a not so good day, draw or trace a circle. Using lines, shapes, and colors create a symbol of this feeling in the circle. Write down words that describe this feeling. You can take this drawing out of your journal if you choose to.
Create a drawing of your favorite place. Share this place with someone.
Create a symbol of tension and write down a word to describe this state of being. Starting at your feet, focus on tensing up each muscle and then releasing it. Do this until you reach the top of your head.
Create a symbol of relaxation and write down a word to describe this state of being.
Create a circle of wellness. Draw or trace your circle and divide your circle into 4 sections and include symbols of physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental activities. Label each activity and share your wellness circle with someone.
Create a circle of family and friends. Draw or trace a circle. Paste copies of pictures (or magazine images) of family and friends (past and present) who have been a source of support. Be sure to include a picture of you. Share stories about each person.