What is EMDR?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR is a psychotherapy technique used to help individuals who have experienced trauma find relief. Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much like the body recovers from physical trauma.
For example, when you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. EMDR demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes. The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health. If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering.
Just like with physical injuries, remove the block and healing will resume. Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR therapy training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their brain’s natural healing processes.
Who Can Benefit from EMDR?
EMDR has been shown to be helpful with post-traumatic stress, panic attacks, disturbing memories, phobias, performance anxiety, stress reduction, and sexual/physical/emotional abuse. At Clarity, our specialists use EMDR in areas that are evidence based and backed by research, such as presenting with trauma resulting in PTSD.
What Happens in EMDR Sessions?
Each individual is unique, as are our treatment plans. However, there is a standard eight phase approach that each clinician should follow. This includes taking a complete history, preparing the client, identifying targets and their components, actively processing the past, present, and future aspects of the trauma, and on-going evaluation. The processing of a target often includes the use of bilateral (let to right) stimulation (eye movements, taps, tones) while the client concentrates on various aspects of a memory. After each set of movements the client briefly describes to the clinician what they experienced.
Phase 1: History-taking
Phase 2: Preparing the client
Phase 3: Assessing the target memory
Phases 4-7: Processing the memory to adaptive resolution
Phase 8: Evaluating treatment results
At the end of each session, the client utilizes coping techniques learned in previous sessions to leave the session feeling in control and empowered. At the end of EMDR therapy, previously disturbing memories and present situations should be less vivid and no longer be problematic, and new, healthy responses should be the norm.
Eye Stuff? Sounds Weird...
While EMDR is recognized as an effective trauma treatment and recommended in the practice guidelines of both domestic and international organizations for the treatment of trauma and PTSD, there's no denying the weird factor. We find the weird factor for most people is tied to the eye movements. Sometimes, it’s only weird because it’s new. The preparation process of EMDR typically helps dial back the weirdness and allows people to feel more comfortable. This phase is a very important part of EMDR where the therapist and client build trust together, walk through the process of EMDR step by step, and build skills for the client to feel more in control of their emotions.
We all know that weird does not equal wrong but if EMDR sounds beyond your comfort level, that’s ok. If the weirdness factor persists we can match you with another evidence based method to continue treatment. There are many other effective treatments approved by the American Psychological Association such as: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Processing Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, and Prolonged Exposure Therapy.
How Many Sessions Will I Need?
The number of EMDR sessions depends upon the specific problem and client history. Every individual is different. However, repeated controlled studies have shown that a single trauma can be processed within 3 sessions in 80-90% of the participants. While every disturbing event need not be processed, the amount of therapy will depend upon the complexity of the history. In a controlled study, 80% of multiple civilian trauma victims no longer had PTSD after approximately 6 hours of treatment. A study of combat veterans reported that after 12 sessions 77% no longer had post-traumatic stress disorder.
The number of sessions needed before the therapist will begin EMDR depends upon the client’s ability to self-soothe and use a variety of self-control techniques to decrease potential disturbance. In the majority of instances the active processing of memories should begin after one or two sessions, but as we stated every case is unique and there is no right or wrong.
Is EMDR Is Right for Me?
If you are a trauma survivor struggling to live the life you want you may be a good candidate for EMDR. See our trauma page for more information on trauma. We recommend taking the next step and scheduling a consultation with one of our EMDR specialists to decide the best course of treatment for you.