Getting to The Heart of the Matter with EMDR Therapy


By Jennifer Mathis, MA, LMHC, NCC – PQ Primary Therapist

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is based off of the Adaptive Information Processing model/theory originated by Francine Shapiro, PhD.  As a certified EMDR therapist, I am excited to offer this amazing research-based treatment modality through my work at Pacific Quest and incorporate it into our unique milieu.

Many of the students that come to Pacific Quest are in various levels of distress and struggling with acting out behaviors.  EMDR is an ideal therapy to help get to the heart of the matter so that students can begin to rewrite their stories and enact positive changes to their existing behaviors.

AIP theory suggests that psychopathologies are rooted in past trauma and/or unprocessed negative events.  Francine Shapiro (2001) postulates that when a traumatic or negative event occurs, processing of that event becomes maladaptive and incomplete.  According to the AIP theory this may be because of the strong negative feelings that are often associated with the event and get stored in the nervous system.  These unprocessed events continue to get triggered by similar situations in everyday life thus exacerbating the effects of the original experience.  By linking the maladaptive memory via the eight phases of EMDR the client is able to re-process the event(s) in an adaptive manner, alleviating the maladaptive symptoms, reducing stress and increasing healthy coping strategies (Shapiro, 2013).

Negative events can vary greatly depending on the individual.  Going through a parent’s divorce, being made fun of, getting yelled at, living through a natural disaster, loss of a loved one, physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse all impact our ability to adaptively function if left unprocessed. The subjective degree of one’s “event” does not really matter inside the brain.  Being made fun of at school can have the same consequences as being in a deadly auto accident.  If the event was not adaptively processed, it will have lasting negative consequences on the individual.

Just as a weed grows in the garden and needs to be pulled to allow the other plants room to grow and flourish, so too do the weeds and maladaptive experiences in our mind.  EMDR Therapy helps the student reprocess beliefs that keep them stuck in self-defeating cycles so that new healthy cognitions, feelings and behaviors have room to take root.  EMDR facilitates an environment that allows the weeds to be pulled at the root leaving more room for new adaptive behaviors to grab hold.

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