What is AF-EMDR?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) is a powerful and effective therapy used in the treatment of trauma. EMDR therapy incorporates eye movements or other bilateral stimulation (BLS) into a comprehensive approach that processes and releases information trapped in the mind and body, freeing clients from disturbing images and body sensations, debilitating emotions, and restrictive beliefs.

Bilateral Stimulation (BLS) refers to a method that activates the brain alternately in each hemisphere (right and left) for more thorough processing. It closely resembles what happens in the brain naturally during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep as we process information from our daily lives.

AF-EMDR (Attachment-Focused Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) was developed by Laurel Parnell, PhD as an adjunct to traditional EMDR. What makes it unique is that it incorporates the empirical evidence that caregiver attachment in the early years of life can have a profound affect on future symptomology from challenging life events. In fact, the quality of attachment early in life can be a predictor in of itself of stabilization/ destabilization throughout the life span.

Based on her belief that all good therapy is an art, not a technique, Laurel Parnell extends all of the use and benefits of traditional EMDR, BLS, and talk therapy for use with clients who will benefit from repairing developmental deficits which occurred in a less than safe family environment

This technique is essential brain work for creating a stable foundation for adults that were not properly nurtured as children.

The Symptomology of Trauma

Throughout our lives, we have experiences—good and bad— that have a lasting impact on us. Strong or negative memories can get biologically “trapped” or “frozen” in the brain when they are unable to resolve naturally. These memories are implicit, meaning they are memories we don’t know we have. These memories can result in symptoms in the present that may cause difficulty in everyday functioning.

Clearly, symptoms can show up at the time of the trauma. If the trauma has not been fully acknowledged and processed, it can also create long-term symptoms that make a person feel “crazy.” Common trauma symptoms are listed below.

  • Panic attacks, anxiety, phobias
  • Depression Attraction to risky situations
  • Feeling “out of it” or dissociated from your body or the world around you
  • Avoidance behavior
  • Relational problems
  • Aversion to social situations (isolation)
  • Addictions, including drugs & alcohol, sex, shopping, food, gambling, smoking etc.
  • Increased or decreased sexual activity or other reckless or high risk behavior
  • Self-harm including cutting, addictions
  • Nightmares or flashbacks
  • Sleep problems
  • Low opinion of self (shame, worthlessness, etc.)
  • Poor memory (for the incident or for the past)
  • Problems with concentration
  • Digestive problems
  • Amnesia and forgetfulness
  • Migraines and frequent headaches
  • Chronic pain, chronic fatigue, fibro myalgia
  • Even more serious medical diagnoses such as heart disease, cancer, lupus, etc.

EMDR vs. Traditional Talk Therapy

Traditional talk therapy can help us to understand what in the past is connected to what is happening in the present. However, that intellectual understanding, although valuable, will not abate the underlying symptoms of trauma . We make those connections in our mind, but we don’t necessarily feel any better. Instead we need to access the charged memory networks and heal them by reprocessing whatever is held there into a non reactive state.

What Happens in an EMDR Session?

AF-EMDR therapists follow a modified 8-part EMDR protocol in which we document an extensive history and spend some time “resourcing” ––identifying things, actions, and qualities (real or imagined) that we can draw upon when we are processing through a charged memory circuit. Working together, we will identify a target or targets that feel “charged” with negative energy. Targets can include anything from a disturbing memory or image, a habit, a particular area of struggle, a persistent thought or feeling, a body sensation, etc. That “target” is then gradually “processed” using BLS, hopefully to a point that the target no longer feels activating.