The following quote is the “first paragraph” I share with people I am training in EMDR. I think it points directly to the work we are doing as EMDR therapists and how EMDR therapy benefits our clients.
This is from Uri Bergmann, “Neurobiological Foundations for EMDR Practice”, page 176:
Our biologically organized emotional core is biased (or conditioned) toward certain emotional responses, which are mediated by the neural templates (emotions, cognitions/ beliefs, and memories) of our early attachment experiences. Hence, present life interpersonal experiences reactivate the neural maps of earlier childhood. This occurs unconsciously and, often, regardless of what is actually occurring, thus biasing or distorting our emotional perception of personal interactions.
I think the above paragraph points directly to what we are doing with EMDR treatment. I break it down as follows:
Our biologically organized emotional core – I think these are seven neural templates from Panksepp, “…(RAGE, FEAR, and PANIC/ GRIEF, SEEKING, LUST, CARE, and PLAY). This means that there is a physical structure that underlies emotions – neural pathways. These neural pathways get strengthened by experience, forged and sometimes “cross-wired” by experience.
is biased (or conditioned) toward certain emotional responses, – these are feelings that get triggered, that may be emotions or body sensations, or neural patterns that act in a certain way – sometimes this becomes “acting-out” behavior that can be self-destructive. These are habits, urges and reactivities.
which are mediated by the neural templates (emotions, cognitions/ beliefs, and memories) of our early attachment experiences. – So, these neural templates were first patterened or established in the context of early attachment experiences of non-attachment of neglect or abuse by primary caregivers. Also, I think, life experiences all throughout childhood mediate these neural templates, as well.
Hence, present life interpersonal experiences reactivate the neural maps of earlier childhood. So, a lot of what we experience, – or maybe everything we experience, depending upon your philosophy – reactivates these early neural maps, and you may not know when you’re being triggered.
This occurs unconsciously and, often, regardless of what is actually occurring, – This is important because it means one can be triggered and not even know it is happening. Furthermore, what is in the current ‘external’ experience may not be what is triggering the neural maps, so that one can be triggered and not know it, and, I think, this is often the case.
thus biasing or distorting our emotional perception of personal interactions. – These neural templates may trigger a feeling of fear, for example, when there is nothing fearful in the environment. But the feeling is so strong, it often seems to be real and become manifested by the client in a way that a fearful environment is created.
So, with EMDR (using the protocols with bi-lateral stimulation) we are allowing the brain to clear and resent those early childhood neural templates or maps. One of the important effects of EMDR is that it helps to change the underlying structure of the way the early neural pathways were first formed, and the structures that are being linked (that is, mal-adaptive networks to adaptive networks, for example). This is results in emotional memories becoming desensitized, less intrusive, which increases the ability to manage them.
When the neural templates become less triggered and triggering, then the person is more able to stay with what’s happening in the present moment.
People are also better able to manage emotions. This is because of the reduced triggering and the reduced strength of sensations or discomfort. One is able to stay with the discomfort better, thus able to life manage situations and experiences more effectively.
This is helpful as you, as a therapist, as you proceed to move into and out of more traditional therapies.