What is Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) & How Can it Help?
There I am, making an easy presentation to the Chairman of the Board, Board of Directors, CEO, and Senior Leadership Team when the unthinkable happened. I had never had a panic attack before, and my brain chose that moment to freeze on me.
Standing there, with my brain preventing me from putting a sentence together, was one of the more embarrassing moments in my life! But there was nothing I could do about it. My "fight, flight, or freeze" drive had taken over and I froze.
As a counselor for men, I understand what happens in the fear network of the brain that creates a cascading effect that leads to a panic attack. What I didn't understand was, "Why then?" I had never had a panic attack before and why at that moment did it strike?
So, as a therapist, you probably know what I did. Logically I would see a therapist for men to figure out what was going on, or so you may think.
But as a MALE therapist, you probably can figure out what I actually did. In my mind, I had a family to support, a career to focus on, and I didn't have time to see a therapist. I'm used to putting other people's needs ahead of my own for the greater good.
So, I sucked it up and kept pressing on. Until I had two more situational panic attacks. It didn't go away.
It got to the point where I had to either figure this thing out or risk my ability to provide for myself and my family.
Time to Man Up and See a Counselor Who Specializes in Counseling Men
After my third panic attack, enough was enough. I started to search out panic attack treatment in Katy, TX as I wanted a counselor close to home.
I also wanted a counselor who specializes in providing counseling for men. That narrowed my option. But having a counselor who dedicated their career to counseling men was important.
I also wanted a therapist who specialized in Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR). This was an approach that I brough to the clinical team for the residential treatment centers I was over, and I knew how effective it can be.
I tried two therapists who advertised that they worked with men. What I found when meeting with them is that while they have worked with men, this was not their primary focus. These were great therapists, but they were more generalist in their practice, and I was looking for a therapist who specialized in providing therapy for men.
And then I found one. Sarah not only specialized in working with men, but she was also EMDR trained.
What EMDR Provided for This Male Counselor Who Struggled with Situational Panic Attacks
I knew EMDR Therapy was supported by research and shown to be effective. I saw firsthand how effective it was in the centers I was over. But until I had experienced it myself, I didn't realize how transformative EMDR can be.
Through EMDR therapy, Sarah helped me to get a handle on the situational panic attacks. My panic attacks largely went away. I could speak to large groups of people or on the news comfortably. And the few times I would sense the beginnings of a panic attack, it became second nature to let it pass through and prevent it from growing into something larger.
Beyond Panic Attacks: A Transformative Experience That Allowed Me to Access My Inner Potential
If this was the end of the story, it would be a success all on its own. I went to men's counseling for panic attack treatment, and it worked! And that's not all it did for me.
I found that while I went to see a counselor for panic attacks, there were other obstacles in my life that it helped resolve at the same time. Not only did it free me from panic attacks, but it freed me from negative messages that were ingrained in me from childhood and my teen years.
While seeing Sarah, I remained with the same company where I had my stellar performance in front of the Chairman of the Board, the Board of Directors, the CEO, and the Senior Leadership Team.
About two years after that stellar performance, I was promoted from Executive Director to Regional Executive Director. I continued to do public speaking events with confidence.
I also ventured out and started a part time private practice while working for this agency. This branched out to starting a group practice, Katy Teen & Family Counseling where we specialize in teen, young adult, and family therapy.
In February of 2021, I resigned from the agency and moved to full time entrepreneurship. And in September of 2022, I started Katy Counseling for Men where we specialize in men's counseling. Coincidentally, we also have two therapists who are EMDR trained at Katy Counseling for Men!
Why the story?
There are several reasons:
To Destigmatize Men Seeing a Counselor
First, for us to de-stigmatize men seeing a counselor, men have to talk about their experiences with mental health and seeing a men's counselor.
To Help Men See That Seeing a Counselor Can Help Them Self-Actualize
Second, I can confidentially say that I would not have been where I'm at today without taking the step of seeing a counselor who specializes in men's therapy.
To Normalize Seeing a Counselor Just Like It's Normal to See a Doctor
Third, I'm not unique. There are many, many men who go on to be more, do more, and achieve more after resolving inner conflicts. These inner conflicts act as barriers to us utilizing our full potential.
And finally, The Above Is the Driver Behind Starting Katy Counseling for Men
The main driver behind why I started Katy Counseling for Men was the above experience. I know that there are men out there who if they could see a counselor who specializes in men's counseling, could also experience life changing, transformative experiences. EMDR Counseling was the vehicle I used but there are so many effective approaches out there and there is one for you too.
What is EMDR & How Can It Help?
Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EDMR) is a non-talk therapy approach that is supported by research and shown to be effective. Developed by a psychologist in the 1980's, EMDR has gone on to help many men overcome challenges such as:
EMDR is an 8-phase therapy process that uses our brain's natural process in healing as a key component of this therapy approach. That process occurs during a stage of sleep we enter called Rapid Eye Movement (REM).
During REM sleep, our eyes are moving back and forth from left to right, diagonally, up and down, or a combination of these movements. This is a mechanism that is involved with our brains processing, consolidating, and storing:
Information from the day,
Emotional content, and
During REM sleep, our brain is directing what region of the brain this information is stored in. When done properly, this information is stored in an adaptive neural network that helps us to function in healthy ways.
Sometimes, information gets stuck and does not get stored in an adaptive neural network. Some experiences are so intense on their own OR chronically stressful over time that it simply does not get sorted correctly by our brain.
Using the same mechanism our brain uses to sort information to adaptive, or healthy neural networks during sleep, EMDR therapy uses this mechanism in the therapy session while we are awake. More on this later.
8 Phases of Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR)
There are 8-phases in EMDR therapy. Each phase is important in its own right as they build on each other.
During the history taking is the only time there is an exploration of the painful, challenging, or overwhelming events. This is different from other therapy approaches where each session time is spent diving into the even time and time again.
The first 3 phases in EMDR counseling are more about establishing a relationship, understanding your history, identifying an experience or event that you would like to process, and preparing your for how EMDR counseling works.
Phases 4, 5, and 6 is where the work happens. These are the phases that help the information be processed to an adaptive, or healthy neural network. Once this happens, the strong emotions that act as barriers in your life are no longer present.
The last 2 phases are to ensure that the EMDR therapist and you have fully processed the information. These are the phases that ask the question, "Is there more you would like to resolve?"
The 8-phases from the Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing International Association (EMDRIA), are outlined as follows:
Phase 1: History Taking
The first phase begins with a discussion between you and the EMDR therapist regarding what brings the client into therapy. You and the therapist also discuss how EMDR therapy can be used best.
Your history is discussed, and a plan is developed with attention to the pacing of EMDR counseling and the selection of events that will be part of therapy. In addition, the EMDR therapist will spend time exploring the strengths and resources in your environment as well as the internal strengths and resources you bring to EMDR counseling.
Phase 2: Preparation
In the preparation phase, the EMDR therapist explains the therapy process, terms, and reviews expectations. Any of your concerns and questions are addressed and a safe therapeutic alliance between you and the EMDR therapist is established.
You and the EMDR therapist collaborate to prepare specific tools to manage any uncomfortable emotions that might come up.
Phase 3: Assessment
In assessment, the event to process is identified, along with images, beliefs, feelings, and sensations about the event. Initial baseline measures are set by using the Subjective Units of Disturbance (SUD) scale and the Validity of Cognition (VOC) scale.
Phase 4: Desensitization
In the fourth phase, we reproduce the brains natural way of processing information by to help resolve the challenging emotions using side to side eye movements, sounds, or taps while focusing on the event you are working at resolving.
The EMDR therapist uses the SUD scale and we continue with the desensitization phase until you report you no longer feel the feelings that were acting as blocks before. During this phase, new thoughts, sensations, images, and feelings may emerge.
Phase 5: Installation
When we have information that the brain does not process correctly, this is what leaves us with strong, intense, or uncomfortable emotions that have blocked our progress in life. This also tends to create negative, irrational internal thoughts or beliefs about ourselves. Desensitization helps resolve those negative, irrational internal thoughts or beliefs.
And while our goal is to resolve those negative, irrational internal beliefs, we also want to replace it with a positive, rational, internal belief that is true. When desensitization is complete, installation begins. In this phase, the client associates and strengthens a positive belief with the event until it feels completely true.
Phase 6: Body Scan
Think for a minute. When you feel stressed, where do you feel that in your body? How about when your anxious, where is that felt in the body? Sad, happy, jealous, love all feelings have a tie to our body and we experience bodily sensations as a result. Emotions are not only stored in our brain, but also have connections elsewhere int the body as well.
During the body scan, you are asked to hold in mind the target event and the positive belief while scanning the body from head to toe. Any lingering tension from the body is processed until that is resolved.
EMDR therapy approaches therapy from very much a mind body connection. It is not enough to resolve the event that wasn't processed appropriately by the brain. Or to resolve the negative, irrational belief and replace it with a rational, true, positive belief.
To fully resolve the event, the emotions that are stored in the body that are tied to that event need processed as well. This will help ensure that the change sticks and remains long term.
Phase 7: Closure
Every session of EMDR therapy ends with the seventh phase, closure. This is where the EMDR therapist helps return you to a state of calm in the present moment whether the reprocessing is complete or not.
Reprocessing of an event is complete when the client feels neutral about it (SUD=0 on a 1-10 scale with 10 being the worst), the positive belief feels completely true (VOC=7 on a 1-7 scale with 7 feeling completely true), and the body is completely clear of tension related to the event.
Phase 8: Reevaluation
Reevaluation is how each new session begins after reprocessing. You and the EMDR therapist discuss recently processed memories to ensure that distress is still low, and that the positive beliefs are still strong. Future targets and directions for continued treatment are also explored.
EMDR Therapy as a Transformative Opportunity
Men, we go to physical therapy after a major surgery or injury and don't think twice about it. And when we attend regularly and follow through with the exercises, we heal and move on with our life.
When we experience a significant emotional injury, why are we so hesitant to seek out emotional therapy? As a man, I get it and experienced it myself. And I'm also glad I took the step to find a therapist who specializes in men's counseling and EMDR counseling.
My experience is not unique. I have gone on to be trained in EMDR and have provided EMDR to many people.
My experience has been that those who start EMDR, are genuine in their efforts, and stick with it, meet the goals they want to achieve in therapy.
If you are struggling and in the back of your mind you may know therapy will help but the louder voice tells you that you don't need therapy, ignore the louder voice and see a therapist. What are the downsides compared to the upsides of starting therapy?
Seeing a men's therapist who specializes in EMDR can be a life transformative experience for you and for those who love you and whom you love.