EMDR and Bilateral Stimulation: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting the Best Results

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What is Bilateral Stimulation

Bilateral stimulation is a rhythmic pattern of stimulus, either through visual, auditory or tactile, performed in a rhythmic left to right model. Bilateral stimulation, part of EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, is a treatment used for processing trauma.

Typical forms of EMDR were following a therapist’s fingers from left to right, and back.  The eye movements between the brain hemispheres are researched to aid in accelerating a mind-body free-associative processing effect inclusive of body sensations, emotions, memories, and thought processing.  This technique is similar to the feeling of brain processing during REM sleep. 

EMDR processing is meant to help aid in reducing any previous traumatic or emotion-provoking memories.  

For examples of bilateral stimulation which we offer our clients are:

•    Visual bilateral stimulation could be watching a hand or moving light, going back and forth from left to right and back again.

•    Auditory bilateral stimulation could be listening to tones that alternate between the left and right sides.

Bilateral stimulation treatment is an Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR.

Dangers of EMDR Therapy: Is Bilateral Stimulation Safe?

Performing bilateral stimulation typically relaxes our clients, and most people find this technique of EMDR safe. However, since the method is stimulation on the nervous system, there have been instances where bilateral stimulation have caused individual responses. In previous research, people with:

•    A brain injury, where visual or auditory stimuli have been known to cause a reaction

•    Complex migraines

•    Elevated PTSD symptoms

•    Various cases of dissociative identity disorder

If you have any of the above, before starting therapy, please consult your physician or disclose this information to your registered psychologist beforehand.

How to use EMDR Tappers for Anxiety

As bilateral stimulation is a rhythmic pattern of stimulus, it makes sense why jogging, swimming, tapping can all be calming mechanisms are used to reduce anxiety.  While manual tapping, such as tapping your hands on a table, can reduce stress, clients are often choosing to use mechanical devices, “tappers” which can be used during normal functions and still get the benefit of rhythmic calming of the brain. 

Scribble art therapy: Calming Anxiety

Various forms of bilateral stimulation and movement are effective in engaging both brain hemispheres. 

One particular method of engaging both brain hemispheres is with art therapy, which is gaining popularity.    Bilaterally focused art therapy can be related to “scribbling with both hands”. 

Rather than focus on drawing a specific image, the focus is instead to engage both hands in a free-form focused, kinaesthetically involved experience.  Using both sides involves and stimulates both brain hemispheres.  Many practitioners prefer to engage the whole body – from the shoulders, elbows and wrists, to provide creative free-form expression, but a more holistic therapeutic sensation connecting body and mind.  Even starting with air movements, and then transferring them to paper with drawing materials.

While bilateral art therapy is gaining popularity, in many cases, integrating this method alongside other forms of EMDR therapy has been providing positive results to clients. 

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