EMDR and Weeds

EMDR and Weeds

EMDR and Weeds

One of the things I love about gardening is weeding. Does that surprise you? 

Of course I love seeing the green stems pushing through the dirt and the colorful spray of flowers that eventually come from those stems…but weeding…it’s my favorite part about gardening in the early Spring months.

Here’s a picture of my small flower bed before weeding:

Picture of a flower garden in early Spring overrun with weeds. How EMDR therapy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania can heal trauma and seed a beautiful garden

The ground around our house is tough. It’s hard and full of clay. When we first moved in, I pounded at the clay dirt, fighting to get just a little patch of ground that I could put flowers in. I filled it with compost from our local recycling center in Fairmount Park and worked it into the clay earth.

Eventually I was able to plant some flowers, and looked at it with pride every Spring.

As a new gardener, I was never sure if something was a weed or a perennial plant sprouting up in the spring. They all looked alike to me. I’m sure I pulled many a perennial plant by accident.

Through the years, though, I’ve learned what the predominant weeds are in my part of Philadelphia. I’ve learned how to distinguish them by the shape of their leaves. Nowadays, they’re easier to distinguish than my perennials. 

EMDR and Weeds: What does one have to do with the other?

Angela, you may be thinking to yourself, what in the heck does this have to do with EMDR? Well, dear reader, the weeds in my garden are like the negative thoughts, beliefs and traumatic memories that fill our lives. I know for myself, if I don’t tend to my brain and heart garden, it will eventually become overrun with unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, and undealt with disturbing memories. 

Oftentimes if I’ve been paying attention and tending to my needs, I can talk to myself, not give too much weight to the unhelpful thoughts and beliefs, reframe them and self soothe myself in some way. On the other hand, if I haven’t given myself space to tend to my needs, my garden becomes hopelessly overrun with weeds and smothers the flowers trying to bloom. 

Dirty pair of gardening gloves. EMDR therapy in Philadelphia, PA available to reprocess trauma

What is the State of Your Garden?

Can you relate? Can we pause for a moment and check in? What is the state of your garden? Does your mind and heart feel clear and open? 

Or do they feel dark, crowded and suffocating? 

Is there space for the hopeful buds to bloom and grow?

How Weeding and the process of EMDR are similar

The clients I’ve had the privilege of working with have avoided looking at their gardens for so long that they forget about the perennial flowers that try year after year to bloom.

They have lived with the weeds of self blame, shame, and feeling broken for so long that they can’t imagine there is another way to think, feel or believe.

Some of the weeds that feel 100% true to them:

  • I’m broken.
  • It’s all my fault.
  • I’m helpless.
  • No one will ever love me.
  • No one is trustworthy.

When I work with clients using EMDR,  whether we’re meeting once a week for an hour, or scheduling an EMDR intensive for several hours at a time, we work collaboratively. We make a plan for what weeds we’re going to pull and in what order. 

One thing I’ve learned is that when you pull weeds, you need to grasp the weed at the very base near the dirt and pull out slowly in order to get the roots.

EMDR and reprocessing trauma is like that too. We want to make sure to understand the root of the issue and reprocess from that place, not the surface issue.

If trust has been established and clients are ready and willing to look at the root causes from the past that are showing up in the present, it’s a beautiful process to witness them becoming free.

The old weeds that felt 100% true can shift to:

  • I’m not broken. My experience was broken and I’m acceptable (or I’m learning to accept myself)
  • I did the best I could at the time.
  • I am strong. I have choices
  • I am loved (or I’m learning to receive love)
  • Some people can be trusted. I am safe right now and have the ability to protect myself.

When the weeds of old beliefs and experiences are cleared, we pay attention to the flowers that have been there all along.

We tend to these promising new beliefs by watering them, fertilizing them, mulching around them. I’ve seen how these promising flowers have just waited for the space and right conditions to bloom and take up the space they were meant to.

Here’s a picture of my flower bed after weeding:

Picture of a flower bed in Philadelphia after it has been weeded. EMDR therapy in PA

Another thing I know about weeds? Pull them early. One little tug and the root pulls out effortlessly. Don’t wait until they’re waist high. It takes so much longer and way more effort and energy to pull a weed that’s been ignored.

The same is true of traumatic events and experiences. The longer you wait to clear them out, the more entrenched they get. 

Start EMDR Therapy in Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Delaware

If you’re curious what it might look like to work together and weed the garden of your mind and heart with EMDR, contact us today for a free 20 minute consultation.

If you live in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or Delaware, we can provide EMDR or EMDR intensives online. Or if you’d like to do EMDR in person, come to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for an EMDR intensive.

As a therapist at Prosper Counseling, I am here to guide you on your journey to healing. Follow the steps below to get started.


  1. Get to know more about me here.
  2. Use the convenient online contact form to set up a consultation.
  3. Set up your first appointment and begin healing!
EMDR and the Window of Tolerance

EMDR and the Window of Tolerance

Trauma healing is a unique and personal journey. Something that is helpful to understand and get familiar with is the Window of Tolerance, sometimes alternatively called the Window of Resilience. This term was first introduced by Dr. Daniel Siegel in 1999 in his book The Developing Mind.  I apply the concept of The Window of Tolerance to my EMDR Therapy as a therapist at Prosper Counseling in Philadelphia, PA.

The Window of Tolerance

The Window of Tolerance refers to an ideal zone of activation where emotions ebb and flow and a person is still able to go on with normal activities and remain connected with others and themselves. At the top of this window is a state known as “hyperarousal” and at the bottom of the window is a state known as “hypoarousal”. Hyperarousal and hypoarousal are automatic responses of our nervous system in service of our survival. 

A graphic expressing the Window of arousal and how it works. If you are struggling to maintain your Window of Tolerance online EMDR therapy can help you keep your emotions in the green! Learn more here.

The Autonomic Nervous System

Our autonomic nervous system has two major branches – the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Hyperarousal is what is commonly known as the “fight or flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system. In this state, the body is mobilizing all resources toward action against a perceived threat.

When hyperaroused, you might notice:

  • Anxiety
  • Hypervigilance
  • Racing thoughts
  • Inability to sleep
  • Digestive issues
  • Inability to relax
  • Chronic pain
  • Panic
  • Overwhelm
  • Anger

Hypoarousal is what is commonly known as the “freeze” response of the parasympathetic nervous system. In this state, the body is shutting down in response to a perceived threat. An example of this is a mouse or possum “playing dead” in the face of a predator.

When hypoaroused, you might notice:

  • Numbness
  • Exhaustion
  • Feeling shut down
  • Disconnected
  • Depressed
  • Flat affect
  • Foggy

All of us have a nervous system. The goal of getting to know our nervous system and what all of these zones feel like in our bodies is to expand our window of tolerance or zone of resilience. 

The Stoplight Approach for The Window of Tolerance

I encourage my clients to think of their nervous system as a special stoplight. The hyperaroused and hypoaroused states are red light zones. The window of tolerance is the green light zone. In between are yellow zones – zones where we are reaching the edge of our window. This is not easy work. It takes time, practice, and support. For many of my clients who have experienced trauma, the red zones are most familiar and the window of resilience is very narrow. Learning the signs that you are entering the yellow zone and practicing different techniques and tools to bring you back into the green zone increases your resilience. 

The Window of Tolerance and Phase 4 of EMDR

It’s important for clients to be aware of their window of tolerance and when they are “out of the window.” Phase 4 of EMDR, the phase of reprocessing a distressing event with bilateral stimulation, requires a client to have one foot in the here and now and one foot in the past for optimal reprocessing. If a client is out of their window, it’s best to pause and practice coming back into their window. Oftentimes I’ll check with a client about what’s happening for them or if it’s okay to continue when I suspect they may be in the yellow zone. Sometimes simply asking the client to tell me about something or someone that I know is a positive resource for that person can help the client come back into their window.

Expanding the Window of Tolerance or Resilience

Trauma disorients. Trauma triggers hurl us into the past and we can no longer orient ourselves to our present safety. In order to expand our window of tolerance, we need to increase our capacity to return to a sense of relative safety. We can do that by orienting to internal and external safety cues. 

Trauma therapist and educator, Linda Thai, encourages us to ask ourselves, “am I unsafe or am I uncomfortable?” I now ask my clients to check in with this question as well. If we are able to ask ourselves this question and orient ourselves to the present, we can take in an accurate picture of what is happening in the here and now. 

Woman sitting on a hammock looking at the sunset. Expanding your Window of Tolerance through Trauma Therapy online in Pennsylvania can help you regain control of your emotions and ground yourself effectively.

Grounding Exercises

So how do we orient ourselves to the present moment?

Here are some body-based practices that can help:

  • Take in your environment through your eyes. Allow yourself to gaze out a window and take in the horizon. Coming back to the room, notice your exits and the route from where you are to your exits. Notice the spaces behind you, above you, in front of you, and below you. 
  • Notice what you are in contact with. This could be your feet making contact with the ground. Name it – “I feel my feet making contact with the ground.” It could be your bottom on the chair. Name it – “I feel my bottom making contact with the chair.”
  • Use your five senses. Look around the room and name all the objects that are a certain color. Is there anything you can smell (a candle, essential oils, etc)? Do you have a mint or candy that you can put in your mouth and notice the taste of? Name several things you can hear. Gently squeeze the outline of your hand or arms or legs.

A helpful metaphor when thinking about expanding our window of tolerance or resilience is to think of hyperarousal and hypoarousal as opposite sides of a river bank. If our window is narrow, we can’t help but run our canoe into the shorelines or maybe even get stuck on one side or the bank or the other (or both at the same time!). However, when we expand our window of tolerance, there is more space and distance between the banks to navigate the ups and downs of daily life without going into hyper or hypo arousal. Every time we recognize we’re out of our window and practice returning to our green zone, we increase the size of the river.

Daily Practices to Improve our Window of Tolerance

It’s important to recognize that our windows fluctuate day to day depending on many factors. Being sick, under a deadline, or hungry can narrow our window.

Some daily and basic practices that can help increase our capacity to handle the ups and downs of daily life are:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Movement
  • Eating nutritious and energizing food
  • Drinking enough water
  • Connecting with someone or something (a pet or nature)
  • Play and laughter

If you recognize that your window of tolerance is narrow and would like support in expanding your window, we invite you to reach out. Prosper Counseling LLC helps adult individuals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey increase resilience and resolve trauma.

Woman sitting peacefully on her bed with a cup of coffee and her laptop representing daily practices that can help improve the Window of Tolerance. Trauma therapy online can help you put these practices in place to be successful in your journey to healing. Learn more here.

Learn More About The Window of Tolerance With Trauma Therapy Online in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Understanding The Window of Tolerance is a key component to healing from trauma and moving forward with your life. If you are struggling to live your best life because you are stuck in the cycle of reliving past trauma, trauma therapy online can help. At Prosper Counseling our therapists are here to guide you on your journey to healing. Follow the steps below to get started.

  1. Get to know more about me here.
  2. Use the convenient online contact form to set up a consultation.
  3. Set up your first appointment and begin healing!

Other Mental Health Services at Prosper Counseling

Our in-person and online therapists in Pennsylvania specialize in EMDR treatment modalities. We offer EMDR Intensives, EMDR Therapy, and online counseling in addition to EMDR Therapy services. We understand that life can be full of challenges that make self-care difficult if not impossible. Allow us to help you reconnect with yourself and live the life you want full of confidence and free of regret.