Have you ever wondered what EMDR is and if it can be supportive of your recovery journey? If so, you're in the right place! Elaine Evans is a therapist from Phoenix, Arizona who specializes in EMDR, which is exactly what we’re talking about in this super insightful podcast episode! Elaine has so much wisdom to share on the topic of EMDR for anxiety disorders and trauma, and I know many of you have been interested in this topic as well.
With over ten years of experience, Elaine works with adults who are navigating and healing from trauma, relationship issues, and grief. EMDR is a tool Elaine often uses in her practice, too! I can’t wait to share our conversation with you, so let’s dive in!
EMDR for Anxiety Disorders With Elaine Evans
What is EMDR?
I asked Elaine if she could explain EMDR to us all, and she delivered! For starters, EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization reprocessing. When explaining the process of EMDR, Elaine said “Basically, what we’re doing is we’re stimulating both parts of the brain, both hemispheres. And something about that taps into the way that our brain stores memory and emotional regulation. That process is disrupted when we have an overwhelming experience or trauma. And so in therapy using EMDR, whether it’s with eye movements, or with tapping side to side… simulating a natural process in the brain to then do what we would call reconsolidate that memory”. Essentially, EMDR is all about reprocessing traumatic events so that we can begin to heal from them.
EMDR for Anxiety Disorders
I’ve always had the assumption that EMDR is a tool that is used when someone experiences a trauma. But people are hearing much more about it being used to treat anxiety disorders as well. I asked Elaine how EMDR is used as a treatment for anxiety disorders, and she had so much wisdom to share! She shared that trauma doesn’t necessarily have to be a large event, but rather anything that overwhelms our ability to cope…and I completely agree with this! Elaine mentioned that when these overwhelming experiences happen during a lifetime, we can form anxious responses to try to cope with these events. And when it comes to anxiety disorders EMDR is used to target the anxious response that’s been programmed into our nervous system.
EMDR is typically used to heal from past traumatic events, but Elaine explains that EMDR for anxiety disorders can be applied to future events that we might anticipate and feel anxious about. With the help of a therapist, we can desensitize ourselves to the anxiety of these moments! And with time, these events can become less upsetting than they once were. This is why EMDR can be so helpful for anxiety and phobias! Elaine shared that when it comes to agoraphobia, EMDR can be used to understand how the story was created and desensitize the truth of that story.
EMDR can be an awesome tool to use throughout your recovery journey, as long as it’s done with a trained therapist! If you want to learn more about EMDR, listen to the full podcast episode with Elaine and check out her Instagram! And if you’re looking for some free support throughout my recovery, sign up for my newsletter to receive free, weekly support directly from me.
Don’t forget to tune in to the episode for all of the helpful information! And until next time, friend, keep taking healthy action.
Connect With Elaine!
All right, today is a really good conversation I've been super looking forward to. And I know many people have been wanting me to have a conversation about this topic. So today, I have a guest here with me. And we're gonna chat about EMDR. And I know this is such a thing that so many people are curious about and have questions about and she is going to bring so much clarity to this topic. So, Elaine, welcome to The Healthy push podcast.
Thanks for having me. Glad to be here. love getting to talk about EMDR. So I'm excited for this too.
Yeah, so let's just start. Who are you? What do you do? Let's just start with who is Elaine?
Yeah, so I am a therapist in Phoenix, Arizona. I've been here for like the past 10 years, but grew up in the Seattle area. And just kind of always knew I wanted to be a therapist. And so went to undergrad out here in Phoenix and then grad school and just last year launched my own private practice in Phoenix. And so I work with adults who are navigating healing trauma issues coming up in their relationship that they're wanting to work on their individual part in or grief. And so those are kind of my my specialty areas.
Yeah, very cool. Much needed. And I'm super jealous that you're in Phoenix. Arizona is one of my true Happy Places.
For weather just got nice. It was a long, hot summer and I feel like just this week or last it's it's become nice to be outside. But I feel like anywhere you live, there's gonna be a season maybe unless you're in San Diego, but like anywhere, there's gonna be a season that you're gonna be stuck inside and the weather's not great. And that happens to be our summers, but I definitely would take that over a lot of rain and cloud cover and long winters. So it works.
I was gonna say I was gonna say maybe my winters in Maine, you wouldn't you wouldn't switch like eight months of cold and just a lot of snow.
Totally. And it could just be I'm not used to it. Yeah, I had a couple friends. So who went to Maine this summer, and it looks gorgeous. So
yeah, yeah. Summary mean, there's nothing quite like it. Okay, so let's dive in. Can we just start with the most simple basic, like, what is EMDR?
Yeah. So EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization reprocessing. In the gal who founded it, research, it created it. I think one of her books as I wish I just called it reprocessing therapy, because people can kind of get hung up on the language or that sounds wonky, or we know what's with the eye movements. But essentially, as the story goes, she was walking through the park and thinking about something distressing. And notice that her eyes were moving back and forth. And when she went back to thinking about the distressing thing, she noticed it was less distressing. So then she became curious about like something about this eye movement is helping me to feel less upset. And that, you know, spun her into a bunch of research, a lot of that early work with EMDR was with veterans, and those who were healing or recovering from PTSD, war trauma. And so fast forward. Basically, what we're doing is we're stimulating both parts of the brain, both hemispheres. And something about that taps into the way that our brain stores memory and emotional regulation. That process is disrupted when we have an overwhelming experience or a trauma. And so in therapy using EMDR, whether it's with eye movements, or with tapping side to side, or some people will have headphones that have a sound going side to side words, simulating a natural process in the brain to then do what we would call reconsolidate that memory. So that's sort of the broad picture of what's happening in the eye movements, your therapist is either moving their fingers back and forth, and you're following it with your eyes. Or more commonly, now there's like a light bar that will have a light that you're watching across the screen. And a lot of therapists will use just like buzzies that you hold in your hand that feels like a cell phone bez that vibrate side to side. So the eye movement, part of it was how it was initially founded. But it's not the only way to go about the protocol. And yeah, so the reprocessing part is really kind of what it's more about. Yeah,
yeah. It's It's so fascinating. I know people and I definitely had this thought or I should say assumption that way. If you're proposing doing EMDR with somebody, it's because you've experienced trauma. I'm curious, what is EMDR actually used for? Because now I think people are hearing much more than it's being used for anxiety disorders, which is very fascinating. So it's, you know, not just for trauma or like you said, PTSD. So how does it fit into treatment for anxiety disorders?
Yeah, that's a great question. And I'll maybe like back it up a little bit and share what I'm thinking of when I'm saying the word trauma. I think a lot of people will think of that as like, big life threatening events, abuse type of events, and think, oh, I don't have any trauma because I never had those experiences. And trauma can be defined as anything that overwhelms our ability to cope. So that could be too much too soon. So that could be a bit overwhelming circumstance, it can be too much for too long. So not an intense situation, but higher stress for a long period of time, or too little for too long, which is more of that neglect, right? Like, maybe I wasn't verbally harmed by mom or dad, but maybe I didn't feel that I had their attention consistently over time. So there's the absence of something that could still be a trauma. So really, anything could be traumatic for someone. And it is based on each individual their unique experience of the event. So you could have two siblings navigate the same experience and one, their brain encodes it as traumatic and the other doesn't. And so I think that's a helpful way to look at, you know, when we're doing EMDR, we are addressing trauma, but it's not what we wouldn't be typically just think of as trauma. The theory behind EMDR is called AIP, adaptive information processing theory. And that approach would propose that the pain that we experienced in life right now is associated with the pain and experiences we've had in the past. And so if I'm anxious in the present, this theory would say that the way that I've been shaped and formed, especially in early attachment relationships, has taught me to sort of navigate the world in a particular way. And sometimes the way that I've learned to navigate it was with a lot of anxiety. And so you might take like someone who is really high achieving, maybe sort of perfectionist, but they wouldn't call themselves that, because they don't think that they're actually perfect, but, you know, just very attentive, or like a people pleaser, severely anxious around how other people feel with them. And how that anxiety shows up is a lot of worry about, am I going to be good at this? Or what are people going to think of me or what if this happens, and when we trace that back that could be associated with early experiences, that in your adult brain, you maybe wouldn't call traumatic, but three years old, or you know, seventh grade, or whatever, when you experienced it, it was a big overwhelming event, that you didn't have enough resources in the way of supportive figures or information about how to digest the experience. But then we learned Okay, the way to cope or deal with this circumstance is to be very attentive to how other people feel, to worry about their feelings first before mine, or the way to feel safe in life is to perform really well. So no one can critique me and I belong and I'm wanted that kind of a thing. So sometimes with EMDR Yes, we we are looking at anxiety, but we're going back to like weird, that strategy of anxiety get programmed in the nervous system, which some people struggle with calling trauma, because they're hung up on a hole doesn't really feel like it was that big of a deal.
Yeah, I'm so glad that you said that. Because I think so many people struggle with that, right that it wasn't, I didn't experience anything really bad, really traumatic. And like you said, it can be even, I don't want to say just right, because they don't want to minimize but higher stress for a long period of time like that, you know, not distress and being in that state for longer periods of time. That is, you know, traumatic. And so I'm so glad that you went back to that and define that, because I think it helps to understand, you know, I think for some people, right, the struggle is I don't want to go all the way back. I don't want to go back to my childhood. I don't or I don't think we have to go back there. And or maybe it's I've done that, and I don't want to do that again. But what you're saying, right is we're really just revisiting these strategies that you maybe learned then that aren't so helpful now and how Can we? How can we make a change to it? So I think it's helpful to think it's not necessarily like going back and digging up all the things. But what isn't working now for you and why and helping to shift that? Is that am I on the right path?
Yeah, totally. I mean, I think any therapy is looking at what is bothering the client right now. And so if something's not bothering someone, it's not important to look at it, right, they might have had a very traumatic childhood. But if they're telling me, Hey, I feel really at peace with that want to focus more present moment, then that's something that as a clinician, I think we need to honor. Because I believe the client knows themselves best. And when we do EMDR, that a client isn't bought into, it often doesn't work. Because something inside is saying like this, I'm not sure what's going on, I don't feel safe. And in order for EMDR, to do what it needs to do, the person needs to feel safe to step into what they're doing. So in that approach, sometimes in with anxiety disorders, we might take a different approach. And rather than going towards the past, or if all of that's been processed, we might look more towards the future, like, okay, maybe I'm anxious about public speaking event or something like that. And we can do EMDR. So the bilateral stimulation, either eye movements or the buzzing or the headphones and think about that future event. Imagine like you're watching it, play out like an episode. And notice what moment feels most upsetting. And then we focus on that moment and work to desensitize it. So when the bilateral stimulation is happening, it's helping our nervous system have the experience like we're experiencing it, and then recognize, like, oh, I can handle this. It's not as upsetting as it was before. So that when we step into that experience, our brain has a template, and feels as though we have actually already navigated that. Because when we imagined something, the same neurons that would be firing in our brain, if we were actually doing that thing, are firing, even just in our imagination, and so EMDR, can you be used more in a future tense as well?
That is so fascinating, the way that you just described that I think people really resonate with that, because they think when you are talking, I'm thinking, like driving anxiety, like this is something so many people that I work with struggle with, and it can really be used in that sense, where it sounds kind of exposure, like, Yeah, I mean, they're right, it sounds like what you're doing is really trying to bring, bring light and attention to those feelings and allow you to process them. Is it similar? I mean, I know, there are differences, but it sounds similar.
Yeah, I would say it's similar, like you're in EMDR therapy, trying to go towards that uncomfortable emotion, and feel that distress, but not just like guns blazing with no support. And we've done well. The client has a variety of different resources. So they feel like if that sensation got too much or too big, that they can ground and you're doing it in the presence of a therapist who can help to co regulate. And so yeah, it's like getting that exposure or actually getting to feel whatever feared emotion or sensation in that future situation in a context that's safe, so that my body can now have what we would call a disconfirming experience of, okay, right now, I'm worried about driving and, you know, this particular situation, maybe being in an intersection turning left is like the height of my anxiety. But if I can imagine doing that coping with it well, and tolerating the distress, then I have a disconfirming experience in an imaginative sense, that then helps me to go out and actually create that disconfirming experience that now I have to reckon with, well, there's some times I've been anxious. There's other times when it's gone, okay. And now my brain has to make sense of that, which over time, then can lead to feeling like I can handle this, even if it's not my preference. Like I can turn left, I can stay calm. Yeah.
Yeah, that. Dang, when you said about being at a stoplight and turning left, I think so many people are probably thinking, Yes. And how did she just come up with that? I'm sure it's because you heard it right. But it's that like, oh, my gosh, being stuck. And I can't just go and yeah, so. So I'm curious. Can you give some other examples? Because I think now that you're really describing this, it seems like EMDR is something that could work in so many different scenarios for for all different phobias. And primarily, of course, this community has panic disorder and agoraphobia. And so I'm just thinking Um, you know, what are some if you can give some examples of like, really, I don't want to say just successful, right, but you know, successful ways that you've used EMDR with people who are struggling with phobias.
Yeah. So with fear of vomiting, that would be one where, okay, we want to look at first, like, what's the first experience you've had with that and what was happening right before that event happened, because in our brain, our brain is programmed, like we were still, you know, fending for our lives every day. And so it's bent on safety. So whenever we have a upsetting experience, our brain is going to remember what happened right before that. And that becomes a trigger or a cue to alert us danger could happen next, even if it's not connected at all. And so, like when a phobia develops, with EMDR, we might look at how is the story of how this was created? You know, what were those early experiences? What happened right before that, let's desensitize and process through what happened right before this event. And then we go through and process the memories, a lot of people have pretty clear memories of some of their most upsetting experiences, with their phobias. And so, in EMDR, you remember those moments and you desensitize them? So that now when I think of them, it's still not my preference? I don't like it. But I don't have this like guttural Oh, like, you know, let's not talk any more about it. And so it becomes something okay, I know, I can tolerate thinking about, even if it's not my preference, and then we look at what are the triggers? And a lot of times like for think it's called emetophobia? Fear vomiting? Yes, yeah, there's like an auditory trigger, or, you know, sounds could be really activating or upsetting, or certain physical sensations. And so we would send our attention towards noticing that sensation, be with that distress, continue noticing that and, and through the process of EMDR, we're allowing the body to desensitize it. And I think with any of these things, it's not really like we're getting to a point like, wow, I really love vomiting. But it becomes like, okay, not my preference, but I can handle it. And it's not intolerable, like it used to be. And so you can target. And when I say target, I'm just meaning you like you're picking a specific trigger or memory to focus on in the EMDR session. So that could be past experiences, it could be present triggers, it could be aspects of the experience that connect to different sensory input. And then it can be future situations, because a lot of times our phobias, really are consuming when we're thinking about the thing happening, and all of our life becomes wrapped around, you know, anticipating it or preventing it. And so doing more of that future work of like, okay, let's imagine coping with it. Well, let's imagine not engaging in some of your reassurance behaviors. And tolerating being in the space of I can't control the outcomes, but I can trust myself to handle this. So that would maybe be a little bit more flushed out of the protocol, especially if a particular phobia has been practiced for a really long time, that EMDR process might feel more like a winding road and take a bit of time, as opposed to if there's like a single event trauma that EMDR is focusing on. So yeah. Does that answer your question?
Oh, my gosh, yes. And you using emetophobia, as an example is so good, because so many people in my community struggle with that one. And I just was thinking, right, this is you shared that specific one, but it's like, toilet anxiety, you know, driving is that I can put that into what you just described. So that was incredibly helpful. I am just thinking right? With EMDR. With the more trauma focused stuff, like of course, there are people who have experienced some very traumatic events and can really even tie it back to that specific traumatic event like this all started with that event, and maybe it is PTSD, or how does it look? Does it look similar with somebody who is coming to do EMDR specifically for I know, and I actually want to work through this trauma.
Versus someone who's like, I don't think I have any trauma, but I just want to be relieved of the anxiety.
Yeah, all right. I've been I've been there. I've sort of feel like I'm healed. Like you said, I don't feel like I need to visit that. Yeah, somebody who's like No, I know. This is something I've never really wanted to look at, but I feel like I should at this point.
Mm. Hmm, I always feel really tender towards clients who are in that space of like, okay, you know, I know that there's this thing in my past, and it was really impactful, and I've spent so much effort not thinking about it, we're talking about it. And maybe I've never shared it with anyone before. And I'm so nervous or embarrassed or worried about sharing it, like, I think that is, that's where I feel like they should be paying me and, you know, this is such an honor to get to be, you know, witness to someone's like, really significant journey of growth. And so that, like, on the clinician side, it feels like such an honor to be trusted with that. And I think with clients who haven't yet done their trauma work, like maybe have the awareness that that's there, but they haven't done it yet. It's very important to EMDR in that process to spend a lot of time on what we would call resourcing, which is fostering in the brain, these senses of positive experiences and tools or strategies for regulating the nervous system. So that that client feels really confident and supported and good about being able to step into that trauma processing. Because if we're going into it and feeling like I'm right back, you know, being 12 years old, and I have no new resources to me, or no new information, that can actually be a lot more harmful. And where people feel like oh, EMDR made things worse, or EMDR just didn't work for me. And so for a client who hasn't yet spent time processing their their trauma, it becomes important that the clinician is very attuned to their sense of readiness, that feeling of safety, anything, anytime we're going into trauma work, there's going to be, you know, some gravity to that. So it's normal to feel anxious, or just be aware of what might come up. And that's going to feel uncomfortable, but the client should feel very confident. And the therapists ability to hold that well in for their ability to kind of contain outside of session and not totally disrupted their life in between sessions. So that would be kind of the distinction. Whereas a client who's like, Hey, here's my story, I processed it, I'm in a healthy place with it, which I would assess a healthy place as having a neutral or helpful belief about yourself as a result of the trauma. So rather than thinking, Oh, it's my fault, or I'm not enough, being in a place of I was a kid, I did the best I could. I'm okay, now I am enough, right? I can choose who to trust, I learned from that. Those are all more healthy thoughts or perceptions of ourselves. And so if someone's coming in with that, then we can kind of more quickly go directly to what's triggering today, and focus on the present what we would call EMDR targets, or triggers or focus more on future targets and templating. Yeah.
Gosh, that was so helpful. You're really good. So I am curious, I know a lot of people feel really intimidated. And I think it's just because we haven't had enough conversations surrounding EMDR, and what it really looks like and what you may be able to expect, and I think you've really helped make it feel and seem less scary, but I think it is because of that, like, I have to face some things. And that's part of this, right. But it's very nice to hear you saying we make sure that you actually have tools have that safety feel like you can approach this in a really healthy way. It's not just we're going into this and it's it's very safe and healthy approach. So I know there are many people though, who are like, okay, maybe, okay, maybe it's sounding better, but it still sounds really overwhelming and scary. Is there anything that you feel like can be helpful to somebody who's anxious about trying it or hesitant about trying it? Or maybe has tried it and like, didn't have a great, you know, first experience? What would you offer that person?
Yeah, totally. So I think it can be hard to be a therapist, and you get out of grad school. And at least in my experience, I was given this very broad education of all the things right. So I'm told in grad coming out of grad school that I could work with couples that could work with families, individuals of all ages and all diagnoses, and that's overwhelming. And so clinicians as they grow, then do advanced education and specify, so sometimes what can happen is when you have a newer clinician, and this isn't true of all newer clinicians, this could be someone who's 10 years in as well. But sometimes someone will do a training and really latch on to a part of that modality and And so sometimes when people have a bad experience with EMDR, it could be that that particular clinician clinician either just wasn't a great fit, or maybe was a little bit earlier on in their understanding of the modality, which isn't like a knock on that therapist, it might be information for them to kind of narrow in on what kind of client they do really good EMDR with and where it's not the best fit. So for for folks who've had a bad experience, I would encourage them not to automatically make that mean about them that like I'm a bad client or EMDR just doesn't work for me, but to consider that there might be other elements going on there that made it not work in that time. But then the other thing I would suggest is, a lot of times what I'll do with my clients, and this is especially true, if we're going into one of those traumas that that feels like a really big T capital T trauma is we'll start off doing EMDR on a memory that feels like on a scale of zero to 10 is like a four. So it's upsetting. But it's not like, you know, that eight or nine trauma that we're really wanting to address, so that we can experience the process of EMDR experience the relief of EMDR. So that we have an idea of what to expect when we get to the you know, more intense memories or trauma work. And so that might mean like, okay, you know, I have some lingering feelings about an old job that I used to have and some conflict with a co worker, maybe. But like, right now, it's maybe upsetting if I let myself think about it. But it's not a really big deal to me, it's not totally like on my mind all the time. So doing EMDR on something like that, even if it's totally unrelated to the anxiety, the phobia, the trauma that I want to work on. Now, that can be a really great way to sort of dip your toes in the water and experience it, and then make an educated decision on do I want to do this with the other trauma or phobia or other treatment goals, or was like, hey, that's an interesting experience. And I'd rather do a different kind of therapy modality. So that would be one thing that I would recommend, which hopefully a clinician would be aware of, and be the one leading and guiding that. But if someone's listening to this and thinking like I did EMDR, and it was way too overwhelming, too quickly, being able to tell your therapist, hey, that was too overwhelming, too quick, can we dial it back and maybe adjust some things. Hopefully, that's something that the therapist can then discern how to approach but one other thing is with EMDR. It's one of those modalities that you can do and intensive on meaning that rather than meeting for your typical 15 minute therapy hour, you're meeting for two hours or four hours. And so you're spending a longer session moving through a memory or an experience, which some people might hear that and think oh my gosh, that sounds exhausting, or like the worst day ever. But oftentimes, you can actually move through material more quickly, when you have a longer amount of time to stay with the processing. In a lot of people can find that as a more supportive way to go about EMDR rather than kind of reopening and re closing the event or the experience every week for however long. Yeah,
gosh, you just offered so much goodness. And there, I think right? It's so important to just to have that communication, what you know, what feels good, what doesn't feel good, and what feels like too much. And it's sometimes hard to say that. But it's important, because I think some of these modalities, like you said can be really helpful. But you're also a part in making sure it's helpful for you, and you really know you best. And so I always say right, try it, find somebody that specializes in it, somebody that you know, has experience in it, just try it. And you can just try, you know, one session and it doesn't mean you're immediately jumping into it. But you know, the therapist will work with you. And really, you can figure out a plan together for trying it. So I am so glad you shared so much goodness there. Is there anything you feel like you sort of want to clear up about EMDR or anything else you want to say about it because they feel like I can ask questions, but you clearly you know your stuff with EMDR and have been doing it for some time with clients. So
yeah, um, gosh. What I want to clear up, I think there's a lot of like energy and enthusiasm in EMDR therapists about the modality itself. And sometimes the maybe side effect of that is EMDR. Can therapists can feel like this is the only way to do therapy, you know, effectively or efficiently. And well I can understand the enthusiasm and it is research supported and when you see clients make big transformation in a short amount of time. It is something you want everybody to know about. And I would want the world to know that there are a variety of ways to heal, and to process and so if that's not EMDR, for someone that is okay, and if that's not a clinicians modality, I think that's also okay. The one thing I think that I would like, if I had a stage with all new therapists, I would tell them that you have to be trauma informed in whatever approach that you're doing. Because we do know that that's a significant way that we're shaped, but I really drink the Kool Aid, if you will, around EMDR. But I use it in every session or with every client again, because I think there's some nuance into people's readiness or what they're looking for or needing in therapy. And so it's a great tool an asset to have, but it's certainly not the only way to go about things. Yeah.
Oh, I love that. I love that. If it were that easy, right? I think we'd all be healed and walking around, like, everything's great, I got this. But everything you've shared, Eileen has been so incredibly helpful. And I just know what you share, the knowledge, the tips, everything is so helpful. So if people are like, this has been great, I would love to learn more. And I would love to connect with Elaine, where can people find you.
So my practice is called third place therapy, kind of with the idea that home is the first place, work is the second place. And the third place in your life is where you go to connect and exchange ideas. So I'm on Instagram, third place therapy, my website, third place therapy.com, I just released a free ebook guide that has four different reflection prompts and exercises for folks to do if there's someone who is noticing in their relationship, hey, I'm reacting in some ways that are not helpful, especially in the midst of conflict. And I'm struggling to regulate myself to actually have productive conversation or communication. And I want to learn what I can do to show up different in that relationship. It's 10 pages of like things that I guide clients through in session. And so my license limits me to only working in Arizona, so I can't work with folks who are outside of the state. But if someone wanted to access my content, that would be a free and easy way to really get a lot of the good stuff. And I think if someone used that guide and followed everything in it consistently, it would really transform a lot of relationships. It's trauma informed and has a lot of practical tips too. So that can be found at the link in my bio or on my website. Third place therapy.com/click here. Yeah, and that's where I can be found.
I love that so good. Thank you so much, Elaine for coming on and sharing all of your wisdom. It's been amazing
things so thanks so much for having me, Shannon. I appreciate it.