What Is EMDR?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and is a common type of therapy that helps people who have suffered disturbing and emotionally traumatic events, such as a natural disaster or a road accident, regain emotional stability. EMDR for divorce recovery can be a powerful tool!
During EMDR therapy, a person talks about their traumatic experience while a therapist guides their eyes to move back and forth, like watching a tennis match from the center court. (Fun info: there are other ways of delivering bilateral stimulation, but this was the original discovery by Francine Shapiro, and thus why it was named. She later wished she had named it differently, but it was already known by this name). This bilateral stimulation eye movement is thought to help the brain process the traumatic memory differently so that it doesn’t bother the person anymore.
Think of the last time you encountered a car accident as you traveled home. The road normally flows well, so it’s a route you choose over another, but today traffic is backed up, and you’re at a standstill. This is how your brain is currently processing this trauma–it usually moves along well, but the trauma is blocking your brain from healing. EMDR helps remove that trauma block, much as first responders help remove the cars involved in the accident. Now the road is clear, and you can continue home.
EMDR helps the brain process traumatic memories differently, so the person no longer feels emotionally overwhelmed by the memories.
How Can EMDR Help With Post-Divorce Trauma?
Divorce, in particular, brings up a multitude of moments that can ingrain themselves into our experience and cause distress, and EMDR can help us process those events.
While your relationship may have unique circumstances that ultimately led to divorce, the common and general story is that it wasn’t one thing. A series of events, miscommunications, and responses led to the decision. Each of those events is one piece of the trauma.
But most of us don’t think back on our divorce as many pieces. Most of us think of separation pain as a whole. This makes it hard for traditional talk therapy to work through the divorce trauma because there’s a lot of untangling to accomplish. But talk therapy doesn’t typically heal trauma–it reinforces it. To heal trauma, we have to access our subconscious beliefs about an event. To access and shift our subconscious beliefs we have to reach different brain activity than is available in talk therapy.
Imagine you have a puzzle with many pieces. Some pieces are bright and colorful, and they fit together perfectly, while others are dark and jagged and don’t fit with any other pieces. Divorce is like breaking up that puzzle and separating the pieces that don’t fit anymore. It can be a difficult and emotional process. Still, just like with a puzzle, once you separate the pieces that don’t fit, you can start to work on finding new pieces that do fit and eventually complete a new and different puzzle that can be just as beautiful.
EMDR therapy can help you process and integrate the pieces of the puzzle you separated and find new pieces that fit together again.
Why Choose EMDR Over Other Therapy Modalities?
There’s not one kind of therapy that will work better for everyone, and it’s important to know that each type of therapy has benefits. But there are a few reasons EMDR treatment can work better for the post-divorce trauma group:
EMDR shortens the time for healing
It is widely believed that deep emotional pain requires a long time to heal, much like wading through a mucky swamp would take a while. And some types of therapy will take a considerable amount of time.
Repeated research has shown that by using EMDR therapy, people can quickly experience the benefits of psychotherapy that may have taken months or years to unfold. When dealing with the aftermath of divorce, there’s no need to spend as much time healing negative emotions as you did in the relationship in the first place!
EMDR therapy is designed to target the root cause of the trauma rather than just addressing the symptoms
This can help prevent the trauma from recurring in the future, which is often the case with other forms of therapy that do not address the underlying cause.
Root causes are negative beliefs we hold about ourselves and the world around us. Sometimes we intellecutally understand we have a negative belief but struggle to connect our head and our heart.
So often women know they are supposed to feel worthy and lovable and not engage in negative self-talk but they just. can’t. stop. This has a lot to do with trauma. Once we heal the underlying negative belief and related traumatic occurrences, we install new positive beliefs! Once that is done, we can work on strengthening the new belief and building healthy habits around them.
Anxiety, depression, and negative emotion symptom reduction
Ending a marriage often has these tag-along symptoms, so addressing the root cause is essential, but most will often desire to reduce the additional symptoms. You can use these treatments to reduce anxiety, depression, and physical symptoms related to trauma, such as headaches, insomnia, and muscle tension.
Case Use For EMDR Treatment After Divorce
If you are constantly anxious and depressed, and have trouble sleeping at night, you’re in a similar situation to many women in the post-divorce phase. Perhaps you’ve tried traditional talk therapy and found it helpful, but not in the timeframe you’d prefer.
Let’s talk about a hypothetical, best-case scenario:
A woman named Sarah who had gone through a difficult divorce. She always felt on edge, experienced regular insomnia, and felt her thoughts looping. Often, she recognized she was upset over seemingly small things–even though they weren’t related to her breakup. She had tried traditional talk therapy, but it didn’t seem to be helping her to feel better. She heard about EMDR therapy and decided to give it a try.
During her first session, Sarah talked about her divorce with her therapist, who guided her through the EMDR process. Sarah was asked to focus on her traumatic memories while following the therapist’s instructions to move her eyes back and forth. As she did this, she began to feel calmer and more in control.
Over the course of several sessions, Sarah continued to work through her traumatic memories of her divorce using EMDR therapy. She was able to process her feelings and thoughts about the divorce in a new way and was surprised to find that her anxiety and depression began to lift.
As she progressed with the therapy, Sarah discovered that the trauma’s root cause was the deep feeling of rejection and betrayal from her ex-husband. Through EMDR therapy, she was able to process and integrate these feelings and beliefs, find a new perspective, and eventually move on. Sarah could see the puzzle from a different perspective and discovered new things to complete a different puzzle, a new chapter in her life. She found peace and happiness again.EMDR is a therapeutic approach, and like any treatment, it has a time and a place and your practitioner may suggest it for you–or not. Feeling anxious thoughts in a divorce or separation isn’t abnormal, but it also doesn’t have to become your normal. Negative emotions don’t have to become a way of life!
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