The witchery and neuroscience of body based trauma healing

My beloved friend and teacher Nicole sent me this recent NY Times article on EMDR.  I’m what you would call a true EMDR devotee (I like to say ‘I have gone down the rabbit hole of EMDR and am not planning on coming back’) and I read this article with the typical enthusiasm of my Aries Sun/Enneagram 7 combo flare. 

I am deeply inspired by, and often reference, Michelle Casandra Johnson’s beautiful body of work around the dismantling of racism. She teaches and practices “We have to love ourselves into who we want to be. Love is part of accountability. I love people enough to ask them to change. Actionable love, the love connected to I believe in us.” So, as a white anti-racist liberationist, who loves and believes in us enough to ask us to change, I’d like to say out loud that this article should include pictures of BIPOC bodies healing. Of the 4 pictures featured in the article, all 4 are of folx who are white appearing. I want to say clearly, as a dismantling of racist culture and a mantling of what we are building, trauma recovery work (including, but not limited to EMDR) is for all of us and healing is our birthright. 

EMDR works by catalyzing our body’s innate wisdom and deep capacity for healing and transformation.  This is folk magic (meaning magic of the people; this belongs to us) that travels the riverbed of our bodies’ birthright capacity for healing and that taps into our deep embodied knowingness of how to heal. This NY Times article is speaking directly to the science of EMDR which, as a self-proclaimed EMDR devotee, is fascinating. However, science removed from magic (and awe) falls flat for me. 

This NY Times article explains, “the added component of bilateral stimulation theoretically anchors the patient in the current moment as they’re engaging with a trauma [memory]…The bilateral stimulation needs to be compelling enough to distract patients, but not so overwhelming that they totally focus on it.” While I somewhat agree with how this is framed, for me this description is missing the beauty and the magic of the transformation that becomes available to us during trauma reprocessing. 

In EMDR, we draw from the deep regulation of moving both sides of our bodies to help anchor us in the present. This is an anchor to the relational field of healing that creates the conditions for safety. The conditions for safety are the energetic container that allows our healing to shine through this work. Or we might instead choose to say this (this being what-is-created-between-us, between our bodies, hearts, nervous systems and souls) is where the magic happens.  As the relational neuroscientists say, “we heal when we have both enough stress and enough safety for change to happen.” And, as the witches say (yes, I am both), “what happens between the worlds changes all the worlds.”  EMDR  is both science and magic. 

While many EMDR therapists like to say we are working with one foot in the past, one foot in the present, I prefer to think of this work as building a bridge. Or, we might say, we are building a relationship. The parts of us that are burdened with trauma memories do not tend to understand they are in the present moment or that the past traumatic experience is not still happening. Our learned neuroception of the inner and outer world affirms this lack of safety to our nervous system and therefore our ecosystem body. However, when we are anchored in the present moment, supported by the deep regulation of movement, presence, attunement & the safety we receive when we experience true belonging, we can learn to be with the parts of us that are reliving past traumas and can deepen our capacity for presence with experiences that have otherwise been intolerable. As we build this capacity, we can bring a depth of healing and offer compassionate witnessing to these tender, wounded parts of ourselves. This is work we can’t access when we are fully reliving traumas or are fully blended with our most vulnerable, wounded parts. However, when we begin to access this from a place of love and care–which is possible and is the body of work we achieve within EMDR–we can bring healing to these wounds, releasing the negative beliefs we have (learned) about ourselves, replacing them with more whole and true beliefs about who we really are. And this, while science continues to try to explain it and sometimes comes closer to touching a piece of it, is absolute(ly) magic. 

And by the way, I am an EMDR CIT (Consultant in Training) and I offer both individual and group consultation for folx on their EMDR practice. Consultation with me is anchored in the rooted wisdom of trauma healing, anti-racism, intersectional ecofeminism, queer and trans/affirming culture, fat and body positivity, neurodivergent affirmation, relational repair and collectivist culture.  Right now, I have a monthly affinity consult group forming for trans/non-binary and queer folx, witches and fat babes. If you hold one or more of these beautiful identities & are interested in joining an affinity consultation group, reach out with your interest. 

Published by horizon

lifetime student of how healing happens.