What is EMDR therapy?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an extensively researched, effective psychotherapy method proven to help people recover from trauma and other distressing life experiences, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, and panic disorder. The American Psychiatric Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the World Health Organization, among many other national and international organizations, recognize EMDR therapy as an effective treatment.
How is EMDR therapy different from other therapies?
EMDR therapy helps resolve unprocessed (“stuck”) traumatic memories in the brain by facilitating their movement into proper storage. EMDR therapy does not require talking in detail about the distressing issue or completing homework between sessions. EMDR therapy, rather than focusing on changing the emotions, thoughts, or behaviors resulting from the distressing issue, allows the brain to resume its natural healing process. For many clients, EMDR therapy yields rapid treatment effects and can be completed in fewer sessions than other psychotherapies.
How does EMDR therapy affect the brain?
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). However, while many times traumatic experiences can be managed and resolved spontaneously, other times they may not get processed without help.
Stress responses are part of our natural fight, flight, or freeze instincts. When residual distress from a disturbing event remains, the upsetting images, thoughts, and emotions may create feelings of overwhelm, of being back in that moment – “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.
Who can benefit from EMDR therapy?
EMDR therapy helps children and adults of all ages and has been proven effective in treating:
Can EMDR therapy be done without a trained EMDR therapist?
EMDR therapy is a mental health intervention. As such, it should only be offered by properly trained and licensed mental health clinicians. EMDRIA does not condone or support indiscriminate uses of EMDR therapy such as “do-it-yourself” virtual therapy
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.
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.
A typical EMDR therapy session lasts from 60-90 minutes. 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.
During EMDR treatment, you will remain in control, fully alert, and wide awake. This is not a form of hypnosis, and your therapist will let you know how to stop the process at any time if you need to. Throughout the session, the therapist will support and facilitate your own self-healing and intervene as little as possible. Reprocessing is usually experienced as something that happens spontaneously, and new connections and insights are felt to arise quite naturally from within. As a result, most people experience EMDR as being a natural and very empowering therapy.
What is an EMDR session like?
EMDR utilizes the natural healing ability of your brain. After a thorough assessment and development of a treatment plan, you will be asked specific questions about a particular disturbing memory. Eye movements, similar to those that occur during REM sleep, will be recreated simply by asking you to watch the therapist’s finger (or another visual object) moving backward and forwards across your visual field. Sometimes, alternating sounds (sent through headphones) or tactile stimuli are used instead. The bilateral stimulation will last a short while and then stop. You will then be asked to report back on the experiences you have had during each of these sets. Experiences during a session may include changes in thoughts, images, and feelings.
With repeated sets of bilateral stimulation, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and becomes a more neutral memory of an event in the past. Other associated memories may also heal at the same time. This linking of related memories can lead to an improvement in many aspects of your life.
Preparing for your EMDR Therapy
If possible, schedule your EMDR session(s) on a day when you will have time to relax afterward (not have to rush back to work, school, or another commitment right away). You may feel tired and/or emotionally drained after your session. Plan to do some self-care and get a good night’s rest following your session.
If you are in the midst of an intensely stressful life situation, your therapist may encourage you to delay the start of EMDR therapy.
After your EMDR Therapy session
It is not unusual for memory processing to continue in the hours and days following an EMDR therapy session. Your therapist will ask you to observe and take note of new material that is remembered and new insights or experiences you have following your EMDR session(s).
Ahead of time, you and your therapist will discuss positive coping strategies for managing any distressing emotions that may arise. You should always reach out to your therapist between sessions if any of these emotions feel unmanageable.
Excerpts taken from www.EMDRIA.org
For more information about EMDR therapy and what to expect, visit www.emdria.org/about–emdrtherapy/experiencing–emdr–therapy/