What is EMDR therapy?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a form of therapy that helps people heal from trauma or other distressing life experiences. EMDR therapy has been extensively researched and has demonstrated effectiveness for trauma.
About EMDR therapy
Our brains have a natural way to recover from traumatic memories and events. This process involves communication between the amygdala (the alarm signal for stressful events), the hippocampus (which assists with learning, including memories about safety and danger), and the prefrontal cortex (which analyzes and controls behavior and emotion). While many times traumatic experiences can be managed and resolved spontaneously, they may not be processed without help. Stress responses are part of our natural fight, flight, or freeze instincts. When distress from a disturbing event remains, the upsetting images, thoughts, and emotions may create feelings of overwhelm, of being back in that moment, or of being “frozen in time.” EMDR therapy helps the brain process these memories, and allows normal healing to resume. The experience is still remembered, but the fight, flight, or freeze response from the original event is resolved.
How is EMDR different from other therapies?
EMDR therapy does not require talking in detail about the distressing issue, or homework between sessions. EMDR, rather than focusing on changing the emotions, thoughts, or behaviors resulting from the distressing issue, allows the brain to resume its natural healing process. EMDR therapy is designed to resolve unprocessed traumatic memories in the brain. Part of the therapy includes alternating eye movements, sounds, or taps. For many clients, EMDR therapy can be completed in fewer sessions than other psychotherapies.
Who can benefit from EMDR therapy?
EMDR therapy helps children and adults of all ages. Therapists use EMDR therapy to address a wide range of challenges:
- Anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias
- Chronic Illness and medical issues
- Depression and bipolar disorders
- Dissociative disorders
- Eating disorders
- Grief and loss
- Performance anxiety
- Personality disorders
- PTSD and other trauma and stress related issues
- Sexual assault
- Sleep disturbance
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Violence and abuse
Experiencing EMDR therapy
After the therapist and client agree that EMDR therapy is a good fit, the client will work through the eight phases of EMDR therapy with their therapist. The client will be asked to focus on a specific event. Attention will be given to a negative image, belief, and body feeling related to this event, and then to a positive belief that would indicate the issue was resolved. While the client focuses on the upsetting event, the therapist will begin sets of side-to-side eye movements, sounds, or taps. The client will be guided to notice what comes to mind after each set. They may experience shifts in insight or changes in images, feelings, or beliefs regarding the event. The client has full control to stop the therapist at any point, if needed. The sets of eye movements, sounds, or taps are repeated until the event becomes less disturbing.
EMDR therapy may be used within a standard talking therapy, as an adjunctive therapy with a separate therapist, or as a treatment all by itself.
There are 8 phases to EMDR therapy. To learn more about the individual 8 phases, click here.
The amount of time the complete treatment will take depends on the history of the client. Complete treatment of the target memories involves a three pronged protocol to alleviate the symptoms and address the complete clinical picture:
1. past memories
2. present disturbance
3. future actions
The goal of EMDR therapy is to process completely the experiences that are causing problems and include new ones that are needed for full health.
“Processing” does not mean talking about it. “Processing” means setting up a learning state that will allow experiences that are causing problems to be “digested” and stored appropriately in your brain. That means that what is useful to you from an experience will be learned and stored with appropriate emotions in your brain, which will then be able to guide you in positive ways in the future.
The inappropriate emotions, beliefs, and body sensations will be discarded. Negative emotions, feelings, and behaviors are generally caused by unresolved earlier experiences that are pushing you in the wrong directions. The goal of EMDR therapy is to leave you with the emotions, understanding, and perspectives that will lead to healthy and useful behaviors and interactions.