It can be frustrating if you’ve worked on your trauma in traditional talk therapy for months, or even years, just to find only temporary relief. What talk therapy does in the case of trauma is simply talk the ghosts of the traumatic memory into different rooms of your brain. When a trigger comes up, however, and you accidentally find yourself opening the door to one or many of the rooms you had locked these ghosts into, you then have to convince them to return. Symptoms that come up such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorders, etc., are really present day triggers of trauma. As long as those ghosts of your past are still locked into those rooms of your mind, symptoms are going to persist. It takes a lot of energy to keep track of where traumatic memories are stored and stay away from those places at all times, and is something you won’t be able to maintain long-term. EMDR therapy works to completely get rid of those ghosts so there is no chance of them jumping back out at you. So why does talk therapy work, but not in the case of trauma?
1. Talk therapy can provide some temporary relief; however, it is merely the Band-Aid that is being placed over the cut. EMDR is able to access the memory networks of the brain directly to clean out any blocks that may be preventing the brain from healing and correctly processing the traumatic memory. Rather than just covering up the cut for periods of time, it works to clean it out to allow for healing on its own. Talk therapy leaves out this initial step of cleaning out the cut, therefore can lead to further infection and improper healing.
2. Every time you tell a story a new memory is made. Talk therapy forces you to reiterate the event which can be retraumatizing in some cases. If you are constantly being prompted to rehash traumatic details and remember the story, each time you do your brain is going to store a new memory of this traumatic event. EMDR does not require you to make new memories of the event because, rather than encouraging narration of the details, it directly accesses the original memory in the brain. EMDR simply edits the original memory in a way that allows it to be stored in its proper place.
3. The brain organizes information different than the intellect does. All the insight in the world will not change the body’s natural response to trauma. Intellect does not necessarily prevent triggers and does not guarantee change. Talk therapy aims to change the maladaptive thoughts and negative beliefs associated with the trauma without really processing the state specific images, emotions, and body sensations which accompany trauma recall. Trauma is stored in the right side of the brain apart from narrative memory. As trauma is processed through EMDR in a holistic manner and moves over into verbal memory, positive beliefs spontaneously arise and strengthen as a result. This is not the case in talk therapy, as positive cognitions are often forced upon the memory like trying to fit a square piece into a circular shape. It doesn’t fit as long as that memory is still “frozen in time” with the attached images, emotions, and body sensations.
With EMDR therapy you are always in control of the process. You already survived the worst part, and all EMDR does is remove the obstacles so your brain is allowed to do what it naturally does anyways. Your brain is constantly working to resolve traumatic memories, so it is just a matter of cleaning out the cut and allowing the healing to happen.