Bilateral Stimulation

What does bilateral stimulation do?

Bilateral stimulation refers to sounds (usually tones from a headset), visual movements (following a moving object back and forth across the perceptual field) or kinesthetic cues (tapping) which require tracking by the eyes, ears or body. It is a process which distinguishes EMDR from other methods, and it’s efficacy has been replicated many times, though it is still not yet fully understood. These effects can be seen:

  1. A relaxation effect including decreased physiological arousal.
  2. Increased attentional flexibility as your thoughts become more fluid and less “fixated” and more regions of the brain are accessed, leading to adaptability.
  3. Distancing effect (the intensity of the problem begins to fade and seem further away).
  4. Decreased preoccupation; the endless looping relaxes and new thoughts/insights/understandings spontaneously arise
  5. Hemispheric collaboration (more parts of the brain involved in processing, due to the dual focus required–remembering traumatic incidents is largely reptilian brain or limbic system and tracking the bilateral stimulation is frontal cortex).

These effects are experienced as a ‘bottom-up’ cascade of changes, which means they occur in the lower or older areas of the brain first, as a physiological response (ie; decreased tension) then travel ‘up’ the the newer brain leading to mental changes (ie; decreased worry). Because this order works with how the brain normally processes information, the effects are often experienced more quickly and easily than with the top-down strategies such as insight and conscious introspection.

EMDR may involve the orienting reflex, or the tendency for your nervous system to orient itself to new stimuli. When your brain is given new stimuli (tapping, beeps) while you are remembering a fearful event, two things may happen.

  1. You can’t think of the problem in the habitual ways and the typical cocktail of fear chemicals is not released into your system
  2. As the memory is present without the same levels of intensity, your system relaxes and re-evaluates.