What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a treatment method that assists people in healing from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. Per EMDRIA, EMDR is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma. Utilizing an 8 Phase approach that includes history taking, developing resources and preparing the client, identifying targets, and processing the past, present and future aspects of the event, EMDR reduces the emotional pain, distress, and triggers from past events. EMDR incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches. For more information about EMDR, please see EMDRIA and EMDR Institute, Inc.
How does EMDR work?
During a traumatic or stressful event, if our brains do not process information as expected, the experience may become locked in our brains and bodies. When a person becomes reminded (e.g., triggered) of the event from various memories, images, sounds, smells, or feelings it is as if they are going through the event for the first time, repeatedly. You may then begin to avoid reminders of the event, develop different negative beliefs about yourself, experience anxiety, depression, relational difficulties, and other interfering symptoms.
After you and your EMDR trained clinician determine that this is a good treatment fit you will engage in the 8 phases of treatment. EMDR therapy involves focusing on the past, present, and future. You and your clinician will identify the past events that are connected to current distressing situations and symptoms. You will also identify the beliefs, skills, and responses that you want to have for positive future actions and responses. Eventually, no longer responding to past traumas from a place of pain, negative beliefs, and/or avoidance. Prior to processing, you and your clinician will increase your skills and resources to manage stressors and cope with emotions.
During the processing phase of EMDR therapy, you will focus on the identified target (e.g., emotionally distressing images, thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and beliefs) in short sets while also focusing on an external stimulus at the same time. After each set of BLS you will briefly describe what you experienced. The stimulus may be eye movements, tapping, or tones that move from left to right (e.g., bilateral stimulus or BLS). BLS assists in processing parts of the trauma, essentially “unlocking” them. This process is similar to natural memory consolidation that occurs during REM sleep. Your brain will move itself towards healing and create new positive associations from the past and you will process the memory and related disturbing feelings, body sensations, and beliefs.
8 Phases of EMDR
EMDR is a therapy modality with a dynamic set of interventions. The EMDR therapist will move between phases throughout treatment, and there is no set amount of time that is spent on each phase. Treatment is tailored to the client. EMDR is not only the reprocessing/desensitization phase (Phase 4), but also includes learning about the client and their experiences, collaboratively identifying treatment goals, and ensuring safety, stability, and a toolbox of effective coping skills and resources.
History and Treatment Planning
Client and Therapist work together to understand a client's history, identify traumatic events, and develop goals.
Therapist explains EMDR process and answers questions. Develop coping skills and resources for use in and out of therapy.
Identify the event to reprocess during the session. Assess baseline measures of current distress and beliefs.
Client will utilize dual attention to think about the traumatic event with bilateral stimulation. New thoughts, images, feelings, and sensations will emerge.
Once Phase 4 is complete, client will strengthen a positive belief about themselves that is associated with the event/traumatic experience.
Client scans their body while holding the targeted event and the positive belief in mind. If any disturbance/distress is noted, it is reprocessed.
At the end of every reprocessing session, the client and therapist work together to ensure the client is in a calm state and safe place.
Each new EMDR sessions starts with review of reprocessing work and thoughts, memories, and experiences between sessions.
What is the goal of EMDR?
After processing different memories and experiences, when you remember the past event or experiences, they will not have the same charge or impact. EMDR cannot erase the memories, but can make them less upsetting and overwhelming. You will also will experience less physiological reactions. To learn more about what it is like to experience EMDR: Read More.
Who can benefit from EMDR?
EMDR can be utilized with people of all ages. EMDR may be utilized as a treatment for people who have experienced traumatic, overwhelming or stressful events. Many different things are thought of as trauma ranging from physical or sexual abuse to verbal/emotional abuse or witnessing violence, experiencing neglect, or existing in high stress environments. It is also a treatment option for: anxiety, panic, phobias/fears, negative beliefs or low self-esteem.