Trauma & EMDR

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.  Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference.

It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal.  EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma.  When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound.  If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes. 

EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes.  The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health.  If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes. 

Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR therapy training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes.

How Does it Work?

EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment.  Eye movements (or other bilateral stimulation) are used during one part of the session. 

After the clinician has determined which memory to target first, he asks the client to hold different aspects of that event or thought in mind and to use his eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision. 

As this happens, for reasons believed by a Harvard researcher to be connected with the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, internal associations arise and the clients begin to process the memory and disturbing feelings.


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In successful EMDR therapy, the meaning of painful events is transformed on an emotional level.  For instance, a rape victim shifts from feeling horror and self-disgust to holding the firm belief that, “I survived it and I am strong.”  Unlike talk therapy, the insights clients gain in EMDR therapy result not so much from clinician interpretation, but from the client’s own accelerated intellectual and emotional processes.  The net effect is that clients conclude EMDR therapy feeling empowered by the very experiences that once debased them.  Their wounds have not just closed, they have transformed.

As a natural outcome of the EMDR therapeutic process, the clients’ thoughts, feelings and behavior are all robust indicators of emotional health and resolution—all without speaking in detail or doing homework used in other therapies.

At Tribe, many of our therapists are trained in and use Polyvagal Theory, which has a profound impact on managing anxiety, stress, depression, and trauma. Developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, the Polyvagal Theory has transformed the landscape of mental health and wellness, offering innovative insights into the way our nervous system responds to various stimuli and how this knowledge can be harnessed for healing and growth.

What is Polyvagal Theory?

Polyvagal Theory is a groundbreaking concept that explores the complex interactions between the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and our social engagement system. It suggests that our body’s responses to stress and emotional challenges are deeply rooted in evolution and shaped by the vagus nerve, a crucial component of the ANS.

The theory proposes three interconnected neural circuits that influence our reactions to environmental cues:

1. Ventral Vagal System:

This is the highest and most evolved state of the nervous system. When activated, it promotes feelings of safety, connection, and trust, allowing us to engage confidently with others and the world around us.

2. Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS):

Known as the “fight or flight” response, the SNS gears us up for survival in perceived threatening situations.

3. Dorsal Vagal:

The most primitive state, the Dorsal Vagal triggers the “freeze” response when we feel overwhelmed and unable to escape perceived danger.

Understanding the interplay of these systems is crucial for recognizing how our body and mind respond to various stressors, and it forms the foundation for the therapeutic applications of Polyvagal Theory.

Benefits of Polyvagal Theory for Anxiety:

Anxiety is a prevalent mental health challenge, affecting millions worldwide. Polyvagal Theory offers valuable insights into the underlying mechanisms of anxiety and provides effective tools for managing and overcoming it.

By learning to activate the Social Engagement System through various techniques such as mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and grounding exercises, individuals can experience a sense of safety and connectedness, reducing anxiety and panic attacks.

Benefits of Polyvagal Theory for Stress:

Modern life is rife with stressors that can take a toll on our physical and emotional well-being. Polyvagal Theory empowers us to navigate stress more effectively by understanding how the vagus nerve and ANS respond to perceived threats.

Through practices like yoga, meditation, and focus on breath, individuals can shift their nervous system’s response away from the SNS (fight or flight) and activate the Social Engagement System instead. This promotes relaxation, emotional regulation, and resilience in the face of stress.

Benefits of Polyvagal Theory for Depression:

Depression can be a complex and challenging mental health issue to tackle. Polyvagal Theory offers new avenues of hope and healing for those struggling with depression.

The theory highlights the crucial role of social connection in mental well-being. By strengthening the Social Engagement System, individuals can foster supportive relationships and find comfort in times of distress. Additionally, therapists can use Polyvagal-informed interventions to help clients access positive emotions and break free from the grip of depression.

Benefits of Polyvagal Theory for Trauma:

Traumatic experiences can leave deep emotional scars, impacting various aspects of life. Polyvagal Theory has emerged as a powerful framework for understanding and healing trauma.

Trauma-informed therapists use Polyvagal Theory to guide clients toward safety and empowerment. By helping individuals build resilience and regain control over their responses, they can gradually shift away from the immobilizing freeze response of the Dorsal Vagal and find a path to healing.

Polyvagal Theory in Practice:

Polyvagal Theory’s application extends to various therapeutic approaches, including:

1. Polyvagal-Informed Therapy: Therapists trained in Polyvagal Theory incorporate its principles into their practice, tailoring interventions to each client’s unique needs.

2. Somatic Experiencing: This trauma-focused modality uses body awareness to release trapped energy from traumatic events and foster healing.

3. Mindfulness and Meditation: By cultivating present-moment awareness, individuals can better regulate their nervous system responses and reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress.

4. Yoga Therapy: Utilizing movement, breath, and relaxation techniques, yoga therapy helps individuals restore balance to their autonomic nervous system.

Polyvagal Theory has revolutionized the way we understand and approach anxiety, stress, depression, and trauma. By unlocking the power of our nervous system’s evolutionary responses, we can embark on a journey of healing, growth, and well-being. With the guidance of a skilled counselor or therapist and the right tools, individuals can navigate life’s challenges with resilience and emerge stronger on the other side. Embrace the potential of Polyvagal Theory and embark on your path to emotional wellness and healing today.