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EMDR Therapy: Everything You Need to Know

When you first hear about eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, it may sound like a bizarre new experimental method. Moving your eye to process trauma memories? That has to be a joke, right?

Wrong! EMDR is not a joke; in fact, it is a well-researched, effective psychotherapy approach that has been proven to help patients in recovering from trauma and PTSD symptoms.

Ongoing research supports positive clinical findings showing that EMDR therapy is an effective treatment for disorders such as depression, anxiety disorder, depression, chronic pain, addictions, and other traumatic life experiences.

In this post, we have discussed eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) in detail.

What is EMDR Therapy?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, is used to treat psychological trauma. It was developed in 1987 by psychologist Francine Shapiro to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD often occurs after traumatic experiences such as military combat, rape, physical assault, or car accidents.

As a therapeutic approach, EMDR therapy is based on several psychotherapy theories, including concepts from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

This form of psychotherapy uses eye movements to change the way memories of traumatic events are stored in the brain and allow you to process them.

EMDR uses rhythmic left-right stimulation to assist individuals in recovering from traumatic memories. Bilateral stimulation consists of rhythmically moving the eyes from left to right.

These eye movements, along with concentrating on painful memories and negative emotions, are thought to lessen the memory’s emotional impact.

Consequently, you can start to recover from the distress and fear associated with the traumatic event you experienced in the past. With time, exposure to these painful memories lessens or eliminates your negative response.

How EMDR Therapy Works

At the time of a stressful trauma event, strong emotions can affect your ability to fully process the experience. Recalling the traumatic experience may feel like reliving it since the sounds, smells, images, and feelings are still there and might be reactivated in the present.

When these memories are triggered, they can have an adverse effect on your everyday functioning and interfere with how you perceive yourself and the world, as well as how you interact with others. 

EMDR therapy appears to have a direct effect on the brain, “unfreezing” unpleasant trauma memories and allowing them to be resolved.

With time, the trauma memory and associated sensations, feelings, and beliefs become “digested” or processed out until you can think about the traumatic event without experiencing it. The memory remains, but it is less distressing.

Using REM (rapid eye movements) appears to alleviate the anxiety associated with the disturbing memory, allowing the original event to be analyzed from a more detached viewpoint, similar to watching a movie about what happened. 

This allows you to gain access to positive ways of reevaluating the original trauma (reprocessing) and releasing the stored negative emotional charges of the body around it (desensitization).

Some experts believe that the eye movements involved in EMDR are similar to those seen during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. It is a physiologically based treatment that helps a person to perceive the event in a fresh and less stressful way.

Others believe it reactivates brain areas that had been “turned down” as a coping mechanism. Cognitive reorganization occurs this way, allowing painful, negative emotions to make way for more empowered, resolved emotions.

EMDR Therapy Techniques

EMDR therapy is usually delivered one to two times per week for a total of six to twelve sessions by skilled professionals who are experienced in performing EMDR.

EMDR consists of eight phases that focus on the past, present, and future. Each phase helps patients in working through trauma and emotional distress before learning skills to deal with current and future stress.

Below, those eight phases of treatments are described in order.

History-Taking

The first phase is to gather your whole history. Getting your history could involve discussing distressing memories, experiences, or events from your past, as well as present stresses. 

Based on your history, you and your EMDR therapist will devise an individualized treatment plan that focuses on specific incidents or memories.

Preparation

During the preparation phase, your therapist will teach you techniques for dealing with anxiety and stress and anxiety, such as mental exercises. The goal of this phase is to improve the individual’s ability to deal with emotional distress.

To do this, an EMDR therapist will teach stress-reduction strategies such as guided imagery, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation. This phase can also help the therapist and client improve their therapeutic relationship.

Assessment

To begin, your EMDR therapist will ask you to select one of the targeted memories you chose in phase one. You will identify various components of the targeted memory:

  • A negative belief about yourself
  • Physical sensations and related emotions
  • Vivid mental imagery related to the memory

Your therapist will also ask you to identify a positive belief about yourself connected to the mental picture of the memory and rate it according to how true it is.

Desensitization

Your therapist will guide you through stimulation sets while you focus on the targeted memory. These sets may include tactile taps, eye movements, and aural tones.

Following each set of stimulation, your EMDR therapist will ask you to clear your mind and express any insights, feelings, memories, thoughts, or images that have come to mind. 

If you still have unpleasant feelings, they’ll become the center of the next set. This process is repeated until the target memory no longer bothers you.

EMDR is designed to disrupt any links you may have between negative symptoms and certain memories.

Installation

The fifth phase of EMDR reinforces the positive belief you identified in the third phase. If you wish to switch your positive belief to anything else, now is the time.

When you are no longer distressed by the target memory, your therapist will instruct you to concentrate on your positive belief. Your therapist will take you through several stimulation sets while you are thinking about the positive belief and target memory.

For example, if the client’s targeted memory was of a car accident and feeling powerless, the feelings of helplessness should reduce during the desensitization phase. During this stage, a positive belief such as “I am in control” is installed and strengthened.

Body Scan

After you have reinforced your positive belief, your EMDR therapist will ask you to take note of any physical reactions you experience while thinking about the positive belief and target memory. The goal is to identify any lingering emotional distress.

If the tension persists, your EMDR therapist will take you through further stimulation sets until it is completely resolved.

Closure

To end the session, you and your EMDR therapist will talk about the positive steps you’ve taken and how to maintain them on a regular basis.

Your therapist may give homework to help you keep up with your development between sessions. Typical homework assignments include the following:

  • Journaling on a daily basis to document your improvement and the relaxing skills you learn.
  • Self-help strategies, such as visualization, allow you to utilize your imagination to see yourself in a calm environment.
  • You may be encouraged to use imagery to picture what it might be like to gradually confront your anxieties.

Reevaluation

Every new EMDR session starts with a reevaluation. You and your EMDR therapist will talk about your present psychological condition as well as whether or not the therapy and self-relaxation strategies are effective.

Therapists will ask whether any targeted memories have emerged since the last session. At this stage, you’ll also decide whether there is a need to work through any other targeted memories you identified in phase one.

Effectiveness of EMDR Therapy

EMDR is widely regarded as one of the most effective therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other stress- and trauma-related disorders. 

More than 30 positive controlled studies on EMDR therapy have been conducted, with some research indicating that 84-94% of single-trauma victims no longer exhibit PTSD after three 90-minute EMDR sessions.

Many organizations have approved it as a successful therapy, including:

  • American Psychological Association
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
  • World Health Organization (WHO)
  • American Psychiatric Association
  • International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS)
  • Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Can EMDR Be Harmful?

In general, EMDR is regarded as a very safe treatment with few side effects. However, like with any trauma therapy, it is important to ensure that you are in the right mindset to participate in EMDR. 

Because EMDR may bring up old traumatic feelings and memories, you and your therapist should ensure that you are mentally prepared to go through this process.

For example, if you are currently using drugs, living in an unstable home environment, or the trauma is intense and ongoing, it may not be the best moment to begin EMDR treatment. 

Your therapist should collaborate with you to choose the best time to start EMDR. However, the research clearly shows that EMDR therapy is not harmful in general.

What to Look for in an EMDR Therapist

As with any type of therapy, it is important to choose a therapist with whom you can create clear communication and a sense of good fit. 

Furthermore, expertise matters, so look for a therapist who has considerable training and experience using EMDR to treat people with mental health issues like yours.

You might ask a potential therapist the following questions:

  • How do you measure progress?
  • What is a typical treatment plan, and how long does a typical course of therapy last?
  • How does EMDR work?
  • How frequently have you dealt with problems like mine in the past?
  • How can you tell if a patient is a right fit for EMDR?

EMDR, as effective as it is, is just one tool. Every good therapist has more than one tool at their disposal. It is best to choose a therapist who is also skilled in other forms of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or exposure therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does EMDR therapy do?

EMDR therapy, a type of psychotherapy, is a mental health treatment method. EMDR therapy involves moving your eyes in a certain pattern while processing painful memories. 

The purpose of EMDR is to assist you in healing from trauma or other stressful life events.

EMDR is a newer therapeutic procedure when compared to others. In 1989, the first clinical experiment using EMDR was conducted. 

Dozens of clinical research conducted since the development of EMDR suggest that it is effective and can heal a person faster than many other therapies.

What disorder is EMDR most commonly used to treat?

EMDR is a new and nontraditional form of psychotherapy. It is gaining popularity, notably for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD often develops following traumatic life experiences such as military war, rape, car accidents, or physical violence.

At first, EMDR appears to take an unusual approach to psychological disorders. It does not depend on talk therapy or medications. EMDR instead makes use of the patient’s own rapid, rhythmic eye movements. 

These eye movements lessen the impact of emotionally charged memories of disturbing experiences in the past.

What are the eight steps of EMDR?

The EMDR is more than just eye movements. Eye movements are a small element of this broader process that has been generally divided into eight stages by EMDR experts like Francine Shapiro. 

This eight-step approach guarantees that trauma and other unpleasant memories are appropriately identified and processed and positive beliefs are installed in lieu of the reworked trauma.

The eight steps of EMDR include:

History-Taking
Preparation
Assessment
Desensitization
Installation
Body Scan
Closure
Reevaluation

Experience a New Life at Indiana Center for Recovery

If you’ve tried more standard psychotherapy approaches and are still stuck or unable to recover from a traumatic event, it might be time to try EMDR.

At Indiana Center for Recovery, our therapists are trained and qualified to use EMDR to help you recover from the unpleasant symptoms of a substance use disorder (SUD), PTSD, anxiety disorders, and depression.

Along with EMDR, we offer other effective evidence-based therapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and more.

Our mental health professionals also offer a broad spectrum of addiction treatment services, including medically-supervised detox, residential treatment, outpatient treatment, dual diagnosis, integrated care, and much more!

For further information, call us today at (844) 650-0064!