What is EMDR?
According to Social Work Today, “EMDR is a therapeutic treatment that uses eye movements, sounds, or pulsations to stimulate the brain. Using these sensory experiences in conjunction with focusing on a traumatic memory can create changes in the brain that help a client overcome symptoms of depression, anger, and anxiety, among other conditions.”
Who Invented this Model of Trauma Treatment?
Francine Shapiro, PhD, executive director of the EMDR Institute, developed the process in 1987 while recovering from receiving a diagnosis of late-stage cancer. She spent the rest of her life – until her death in – conducting research on emotional reprocessing to refine and test the method for its effectiveness for people working through past traumatic events.
While researchers cannot say with certainty why EMDR works in helping patients resolve trauma, it is now the most researched psychotherapeutic treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Recent research by Dr. Anna Gotter shows that EMDR is increasingly being used for treating recalcitrant mental health challenges:
How Does EMDR Work?
Essentially, an EMDR session allows a client to mentally visit a disturbing memory in brief doses while simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus. Not only does EMDR help clients create new associations with traumatic memories, but it also helps reduce sensitivity to external events that can trigger those memories while allowing them to learn to exercise control over the future.
What Happens During an EMDR Session?
Shapiro created what’s considered a “Standardized” model; one that can be utilized systematically. It utilizes a series of actions broken down into eight different phases, so you’ll need to attend multiple sessions. Treatment usually takes about 12 separate sessions.
Phase 1: History and treatment planning
Your therapist will first review your history and decide where you are in the treatment process. This evaluation phase also includes talking about your trauma and identifying potential traumatic memories to treat specifically.
Phase 2: Preparation
Your therapist will then help you learn several different ways to cope with the emotional or psychological stress you’re experiencing.
Stress management techniques such as deep breathing and mindfulness may be used.
Phase 3: Assessment
During the third phase of EMDR treatment, your therapist will identify the specific memories that will be targeted and all the associated components (such as the physical sensations that are stimulated when you concentrate on an event) for each target memory.
Phases 4-7: Treatment
Your therapist will then begin using EMDR therapy techniques to treat your targeted memories. During these sessions, you will be asked to focus on a negative thought, memory, or image.
Your therapist will simultaneously have you do specific eye movements. The bilateral stimulation may also include taps or other movements mixed in, depending on your case.
After the bilateral stimulation, your therapist will ask you to let your mind go blank and notice the thoughts and feelings you’re having spontaneously. After you identify these thoughts, your therapist may have you refocus on that traumatic memory, or move on to another.
If you become distressed, your therapist will help bring you back to the present before moving on to another traumatic memory. Over time, the distress over particular thoughts, images, or memories should start to fade.
Phase 8: Evaluation
In the final phase, you’ll be asked to evaluate your progress after these sessions. Your therapist will do the same.
To schedule an appointment to explore EMDR with a trained professional, contact us at [email protected]
Together we can do so much, alone we can do so little. ~ Helen Keller