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Can EMDR help me if I can't recall specific traumatic memories?

how emdr therapy helps memories

Embarking on a journey toward healing from trauma can be both daunting and hopeful. Often, individuals carry within them memories of past experiences that continue to affect their present lives, even when those memories are not consciously accessible. These implicit memories, stored deep within the subconscious, can manifest in various ways, impacting emotions, behaviors, and relationships. However, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) that has shown remarkable effectiveness in addressing implicit memories and facilitating healing.


Understanding Implicit Memories for EMDR Memory Recall

Implicit memories are those that are encoded without conscious awareness and can influence thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without individuals fully recognizing their origins. These memories are often formed during traumatic experiences when the brain prioritizes survival mechanisms over conscious processing. Consequently, they may be fragmented, disjointed, or inaccessible to verbal recall.

Examples of Implicit Memories:

Somatic Sensations: Imagine a client who experienced a car accident in childhood. Despite having no conscious memory of the event, they might feel a sudden surge of panic or tension when driving or hearing screeching tires. These bodily sensations represent implicit memories stored in the nervous system, triggering a fight-or-flight response without the person understanding the underlying cause.


Emotional Triggers: A person who grew up in a volatile household may find themselves feeling intense fear or anger in seemingly innocuous situations, such as during conflict in their own relationships. These emotional reactions stem from implicit memories of past trauma, influencing their responses without them consciously connecting the dots.


Behavioral Patterns: Consider an individual who witnessed domestic violence as a child. Despite their best efforts to maintain healthy relationships, they may find themselves repeating destructive patterns, such as seeking out partners who exhibit similar abusive behaviors. These behavioral patterns are driven by implicit memories of relational dynamics learned in childhood.


Phobias or Avoidant Behaviors: Someone who experienced a traumatic event in a crowded space may develop a phobia of crowds or avoid crowded places altogether. Even if they cannot recall the specific event, their aversion is driven by implicit memories of danger associated with crowded environments.


Impact of Implicit Memories:

Even though implicit memories may not be consciously recalled, they can significantly impact an individual's life. They may contribute to symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health challenges. For instance, a person might experience unexplained triggers, intense emotional reactions, or recurring patterns of behavior without understanding the underlying cause rooted in past trauma.


The Role of EMDR in Addressing Implicit Memories:

EMDR is a psychotherapy approach specifically designed to target and process traumatic memories, including implicit ones. Unlike traditional talk therapy, which primarily engages the conscious mind, EMDR accesses the brain's natural ability to heal through bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements, sounds, or taps.


How EMDR Works with Implicit Memories:

EMDR therapy facilitates the processing and integration of implicit memories by accessing the brain's adaptive information processing system. During an EMDR session, the therapist guides the client through bilateral stimulation while simultaneously focusing on specific target memories, emotions, or beliefs associated with the trauma.


Through this process, the client's brain is encouraged to reprocess the traumatic memory, allowing for the integration of fragmented elements and the resolution of associated negative emotions and beliefs. While clients may initially struggle to access implicit memories directly, the bilateral stimulation used in EMDR can help to unlock and release these memories from the subconscious.


Benefits of EMDR for Implicit Memory Processing:

  • Effective Resolution: EMDR has been shown to effectively reduce the emotional distress and negative beliefs associated with implicit memories, leading to significant improvements in overall well-being.

  • Lasting Change: By targeting the root cause of symptoms, rather than just managing them, EMDR facilitates lasting healing and transformation.

  • Empowerment: EMDR empowers clients by enabling them to access their innate capacity for healing and resilience, empowering them to break free from the grip of past trauma.

  • Safety and Stability: EMDR provides a structured and safe environment for exploring and processing traumatic memories, ensuring that clients feel supported throughout their healing journey.

For individuals grappling with the lingering effects of trauma, the prospect of healing can feel distant and uncertain. However, EMDR offers a beacon of hope, providing a path toward healing even for memories buried deep within the subconscious. By harnessing the brain's natural capacity for processing and integration, EMDR empowers clients to reclaim their lives and rewrite their narratives. If you're considering EMDR therapy, know that you're not alone, and healing is possible.

EMDR Memory Recall


how emdr helps memories

Annabella Lipson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling in Scarsdale, NY.


She enjoys working with young adults & adults who are dealing with grief, constant sadness, anxiety, PTSD and other heavy emotions that make it difficult to enjoy the present moment. 


Annabella has an innate ability to make her clients feel comforted and cared for as they confront their grief and loss.  She incorporates a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), EMDR Therapy, Ego-state Interventions and Mindfulness practices in her counseling sessions.


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