By Ashtyn Porter
After going through a traumatic event, it may feel as though your brain is working against you as you begin your healing process. Part of this is because the brain is altered after experiencing trauma in a way some types of therapy may struggle to overcome, and what is the best path for recovery is not always clear. At enCircle, our counselors are trained in a variety of therapeutic approaches so the people we serve can receive the type of treatment that best serves them. Our counselors are deeply committed to continuing their training, so their clients— children, teens, and adults — can be guided to a stage of healing. One of our team members with this commitment is LeeLee Sarlo, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, who provides counseling through enCircle, and has recently completed her training in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.
EMDR is a form of therapy aimed at helping those suffering from traumatic stress. In EMDR, patients work through a traumatic memory while using a "bilateral stimulation," such as repetitive eye movements, tapping, or auditory cues. Sarlo explained that when a traumatic event occurs, the memory gets locked into the brain alongside all of its corresponding sensations. EMDR unlocks this memory by mimicking what happens in REM sleep.
"When we are in REM, our eyes move very quickly in rapid eye movements that help our brain process past experiences, traumas, and memories,” Sarlo explained, saying that the different forms of bilateral stimulation “mimic the things that happen when we enter dream sleep." So instead of REM, EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to access that part of the brain and begin processing past experiences and trauma.
EMDR can be a very powerful tool for clients wanting to work through traumatic experiences while they are in control. "The client is in control and it is their brain doing the work, and when you think about it that way, it is empowering," Sarlo emphasized.
Clients also control the session flow and create a signal to give counselors so they can stop or pause when they would like. EMDR is heavily researched and incredibly evidenced-based and has consistently shown to be a remarkably effective form of treatment. It is also not limited to in-person sessions, as eye movements and tapping are bilateral stimulations that can be done virtually while still being effective.
For those nervous about beginning EMDR therapy, Sarlo explained how EMDR therapists aim to keep clients within a "safe window of tolerance," and use a range of grounding techniques at the beginning and end of sessions to keep clients in this safe space. Clients are guided through traumatic memories in a way aimed at keeping them from reliving them, such as encouraging clients to imagine they are watching a movie or on a train, so the event is something that passes them by rather than something they are reliving. This is all in combination with EMDR’s heavy emphasis on client control, so if they are ever overwhelmed, they can pause and take a break.
By finishing this training, Sarlo and other enCircle clinicians can work with clients of all ages to unblock traumatic memories and begin processing the past, as well as creating coping mechanisms for future stressors.
Learn more about enCircle's counseling services here.