How EMDR Works

How EMDR Works

In 2013, I was certified in EMDR therapy. I found that using conventional talk therapies were helpful, but some clients found that while they understood logically what they needed to do, sometimes they just couldn’t get themselves to do it. It was like the emotional right-side of their brains didn’t talk to their logical left-side. It turns out, this is true! Studies have shown that the right-side of our brains understand symbols, images, smells and sounds, but doesn’t understand the language of our rational left-side.I know this from personal experience. I know about nutrition and the importance of eating healthy, yet there are times when my pleasure center wants candy or french fries! EMDR helps the two sides of the brain talk to one another.

What is EMDR and how does it work? Here are some answers that I think help to explain it.

What is EMDR?   Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

EMDR is a technique for processing past painful experiences and traumas so they may be integrated more adaptively and not cause the same level of emotional reaction.

Why does it work?

The way memory is stored in the brain is seen as the underlying basis of mental health problems because it is the basis of perception, attitude, and behavior. If unpleasant memories get stuck in the nervous system, they can cause distress. We all experience traumatic events in our lives and many times they resolve naturally so the memory is no longer troubling. However, sometimes, the trauma does not resolve itself. EMDR processes this disturbance to an adaptive resolution. The process approaches all material in the past (memory), the present (it’s effects on you today), and the future.

What will it be like?

The therapist will guide you through the EMDR process, which includes information gathering, defining the issues to be worked on, bilateral stimulation and feedback.

The bilateral stimulation is either bilateral movement of the eyes from side to side, physical movement from one hand to the other, or audio from one ear to the other, to activate neurological processing. In a session, this happens when the client follows the therapist’s fingers back and forth, holds tappers that vibrate from one hand to the other or wears a headset that beeps in one ear and then the other. Although the traditional way to work with EMDR is using eye movements, it has been shown that the different methods of bilateral stimulation are equally valid. You and your therapist will find the most effective way for you.

As you use bilateral stimulation to work through the problematic information and digest the old events: pictures, sensations, or emotions may arise. Your job is to notice them, just let them happen. Imagine that you are on a train and the scenery is passing by. Notice the landscape without trying to grab hold of it or make it significant.

How long does it take?

EMDR has proven to be an extremely efficient method of processing traumas, big and small. However, each person is unique and therefore the lengths of time will vary greatly. Most reports find EMDR to be faster than other methods of “trauma” resolution. This has been my experience as well.

Example:

I worked with a woman who was in a car accident. She was understandably very shaken up after the accident which happened in broad daylight. A huge truck came into her lane so she swerved and hit the guardrail going 65 miles per hour. Her car was totaled and she was in complete shock. She remembered vividly the sound of the car hitting the rail and the ambulance ride to the hospital. When she came to see me, she was experiencing nightmares and flashbacks whenever she tried to drive further than around the block from her house. It was impacting her life in every way possible. In our sessions, while getting some history of other traumatic events, she learned some tools she could use when not in session if disturbing memories emerged. We then set up the target of the accident to work on using EMDR. We worked together for three months on a weekly basis. Each time she came in, I would ask her to rate how much the memory of the accident bothered her on a scale from 0-10, 10 being the worst. Over the course of treatment, the level went down to a 0 and although the thought of the accident was still of course upsetting, it didn’t have the same emotional charge that it had when we began.  

Who is it best for?

In my training when I experienced EMDR, I found that it helped my thoughts and the connections of those thoughts happen much faster. It also surprised me how well it works to improve processing of memories and experiences. If you suffer from anxiety, depression, or PTSD, EMDR might be a helpful type of therapy for you.

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Tips to Stress Less

Tips to Stress Less

We recently completed our YouTube series on How to Manage Stress. After finishing the series, we wanted to follow it up with some practical takeaways for your action plan.

Stress, what can you do about it:

  • Pay attention to it – say something to your partner or someone around you about it. Expressing the stress can help it to lose its power.
  • Internal check-in – scan from the top of your head through your body (go part by part). Start at the top of your head and scan all the way down and focus on how things feel – if there is tension, and try to relax these parts to alleviate muscle tension.
  • Take 5 minutes and utilize progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Notice when the stress builds and wanes during the day. Keep track of this as it will help you to understand it and make necessary changes.
  • Take a minute to reset for 1-5 minutes: meditate, jumping jacks, squats, push up against the wall (engage large muscles).

Apps that can help:

  • Headspace – meditation programs that teach you to do progressive relaxation.
  • Calm & Brain.FM – both have music that is curated binaural beats. This helps you to relax and focus.
  • Insight timer – even as little as 60 seconds can help – diaphragmatic breathing.
  • CBT-i Coach – sleep app developed by the military for those with sleep difficulties.

Sleep:

  • Practice good sleep hygiene.
  • Try not having your cell phone next to the bed (unless there is a safety concern).
  • Taking a hot shower 90 minutes before bed.
  • Read a book before bed.
  • Going to bed or getting in bed at the same time every night (if possible).

Exercise:

Diet:

  • Eat/Snack/Drink water every 1.5 to 2 hours
  • Talk with a dietician and make a meal plan that works for you
  • HANGRY – Hunger can make you more likely to get angry — and yes, hangry is a real word.

What also helps:

  • Having clear goals
  • Empathetic care team (doctor, therapist, coach, dietician, etc)
  • Vocalizing your goals to those close to you
  • Keeping goals simple and focus on what you think is the easiest to start with.
  • Having a peer support partner

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Moving In Together Do's and Don'ts

Moving In Together Do’s and Don’ts

Living Together for the First Time: Moving In Together Do’s and Don’ts

You’ve met, taken the time to get to know each other, fallen deeply in love, and now you’re taking the next step….moving in together! Chances are you’ve spent time in each other’s separate spaces, but if you have never lived in the same home, there may be a few things to talk about before you move in together.  For an idea of where to start, take a look at these do’s and don’ts of moving in for the first time.

 

When it comes to finances….

Don’t be afraid to talk budget with your partner.

It can be a tough conversation, but there may be some things you just can’t afford at the moment. Creating a budget can help to divide costs accordingly between you and your partner. If one of you is in a better financial position than the other, it’s important to be honest with your partner, and discuss what part of the budget each of you can tackle, based on your individual income. If you take on more than you can handle, finances can be pulled thin, and you will only bring more stress on yourself and your relationship.

Do keep yourself organized.

When you are searching the web for places to live, keep an organized list or spreadsheet with all your expenses. This will keep all your information stored in one place and allow you to compare the costs before making your decision. It will also, help you remember which questions to ask each realtor as you are moving in. This will also, help you and your partner be transparent about finances and bills. The more organized you are, the more confident you will feel in your decision when you make it!

 

When it comes to the furnishings….

Don’t assume your partner doesn’t care about decor.

Once you’ve made your decision on a place to live, the next thing you’ll have to do is pick out your furniture and decor. This is an exciting step, and you’ll want to start pinning photos to your Pinterest boards right away. But, before you design your new space with only your style in mind, have a conversation about the colors or design themes that appeal to both you and your partner.. Be sure to not just assume that your partner won’t care (even about something as small as a shower curtain), because you could end up making a decision that maybe they wanted their input on. So be sure to share those Pinterest boards and ideas to make sure your space conveys both your tastes in style.

Do take the time to pick out your furniture together.

A sure-fire way to remain on the same page as you decorate your apartment is to look for the big pieces together! With larger decor pieces being an investment, it’s important to take your time and pick out something you both love. You’ll both be enjoying meals around the same kitchen table and lounging on the same living room pieces, so you both should have a say in what goes into your space. You might even learn something new about the person that you didn’t before. Maybe you both like reclaimed dining room furniture, and you may not have known that if you had shopped separately.  It can be a really great bonding experience as well, for you and your partner!

 

When it comes to the chores….

Don’t get upset every time something is out of place.

Patience will be a huge part of moving in together, and there are bound to be frustrations that you have after moving in that you may have never noticed before. It’s a huge learning experience when sharing a space with someone for the first time, so be sure to be honest about what some of your pet peeves might be. When there is a  pile of dirty dishes in the sink or laundry on the floor, don’t fret, and just have a conversation with your partner about dividing up the chores to make sure you both feel comfortable in your space… Don’t let frustrations build up, and cut each other a little slack when necessary. It’s a new experience for both of you, and it will take time to adjust to each other’s lifestyles.

Do talk about expectations.

Prior to moving in, you should discuss what the expectations are for cleanliness, organization, and have guests over. You may not consider your significant other to be your roommate, but you should still discuss some pain points that may come up, and set a few ground rules. Now that you are living with your partner, you will no longer have your own space, so it will be important to talk about the expectations of your shared home. It’s also, important to address moments of alone time, and maybe pick a spot for each of you to have a place to unwind by yourselves, and allow for each other to make this little nook their own. It’s okay to not be together 24/7, and it can be healthy for your relationship to have a little time to yourselves.

For more tips, see our related articles like “Tips to Make Moving Easier” and “The Secret to Maintaining Sexual Desire.”

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Communicating Effectively With Your Asperger's Partner

Communicating Effectively With Your Asperger’s Partner

By William Schroeder, LPC

Have you had difficulty communicating effectively with your Asperger’s partner? Many of my adult clients tend to fall on the higher functioning side of the Autism spectrum formerly known as Aspergers. One issue that commonly comes up is difficulty reading the emotional world of those on the spectrum as it can present in a way that seems very flat or narrow. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have deep emotional worlds, what I have found is that accessing this information tends to take a different route sometimes.

An example of that would be when a client identified their car in the parking lot, not by model or color, but by the plate number. So, if a stranger were in the parking lot with them and asked which car was theirs, they would respond with the plate number instead of saying, “I have that red Honda Accord on the corner.” This person is an excellent example of how people can see and categorize the world around them in vastly different ways. Differences like this can often create some breakdowns in communication and build frustration for those on the spectrum and potentially those connected to them.

What to do about it?

One approach that I like to use with clients is something that I have pulled from Polyvagal Theory. I call it, Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red Light.

  • Green light – where you feel comfortable and things are going well and are easy.
  • Yellow light – You are scanning for danger and anxious.
  • Orange light – Things are starting to meltdown but haven’t completely fallen apart. Tension is high.
  • Red light – A meltdown has happened. (For some this is cathartic as their internal world matches their external world)

I will have clients think about the events of their week and ask them to highlight them in the matching colors. The activity tends to help find ways that connect more to the emotional world of this person. I have some clients that do not identify with having many “green light” stages during their days. No matter what, this activity is informative and allows people a greater ability to understand what causes their ASD partners or kids to be throttled during the days or weeks as this might not always be evident. I like to think of it as an activity monitor or debugging log that allows you to have a better view of the processes that take up the most bandwidth in the CPU. Over time this becomes very instructive about changes that may need to happen.

Another tool that can be used is the game Grok. Grok is a card game for couples that focuses on pulling words associated with emotions and applying it to recent situations. Similarly, this game encourages emotional processing which can be very constructive. I find that both of these activities tend to unlock dialogue that would easily have been missed without utilizing them.

Do you have activities that you prefer or even find more useful? If so, let us know on Twitter. If you would like counseling and more tips, contact us for an appointment. One last suggestion, for couples I would suggest reading Eva Mendes book, “Marriage and Lasting Relationships with Aspergers Syndrome.” Eva has a number of useful insights and activities that promote greater connectedness in ASD relationships.

Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash