What is EMDR Therapy?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and is an evidenced based treatment approach for trauma. EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from different treatment approaches.
How does EMDR work?
EMDR therapy is an integrative psychotherapy approach that uses a technique called bilateral stimulation to repeatedly activate opposite sides of the brain. Therapists often use eye movements, or auditory (tone) or tactile pulsars to facilitate the bilateral stimulation. These back and forth movements mimic the period of sleep referred to as rapid eye movement or REM sleep, and this portion of sleep is frequently considered to be the time when the brain naturally processes the recent and daily events in the person’s life.
EMDR seems to help the brain reprocess the trapped memories is such a way that normal information processing is resumed. Therapists often use EMDR to help clients uncover and process negative or maladaptive beliefs that developed as the result of relational traumas, or childhood abuse and/or neglect. For a more detailed explanation please visit EMDR Institute, Inc.
How is EMDR therapy different from other therapies?
EMDR therapy does not require talking in detail about the distressing issue/experience nor does it require you to complete 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. EMDR therapy is designed to resolve unprocessed traumatic memories in the brain. For many clients, EMDR therapy can be completed in fewer sessions than other types of psychotherapies.
What does an EMDR session look like?
After your therapist and you agree that EMDR therapy is a good fit, you will work through an eight phase process which includes:
Phase 1: History and Treatment Planning
Phase 2: Preparation
Phase 3: Assessment
Phase 4: Desensitization
Phase 5: Installation
Phase 6: Body Scan
Phase 7: Closure
Phase 8: Re-evaluation
The beginning sessions will involve discussing what you want to work on and improving your ability to manage distress, through different skill building activities. When ready for the next phases of EMDR therapy, you will be asked to focus on a specific event/memory. Attention will be given to a negative image, belief, emotion, and body feeling/sensation related to this event, and then to a positive belief that would indicate to you that the issue was resolved. While you focus on the upsetting event, your therapist will begin sets of side-to-side eye movements, auditory tones, or taps (tactile pulsars). You will be guided to notice what comes to mind after each set. You may experience shifts in insight or changes in images, feelings, or beliefs regarding the event. You have full control to stop your therapist at any point, if needed. The sets of eye movements, sounds, or taps are repeated until the event becomes less disturbing.
How long does EMDR Therapy Take?
A typical EMDR therapy session lasts from 60-90 minutes. It could take one or several sessions to process one traumatic experience. The goal of EMDR therapy is to process completely the traumatic experience(s) that are causing problems and to incorporate new ones that are needed for full resolution of the event/memory. The amount of time it will take to complete EMDR treatment for traumatic experiences will depend up upon your history. Complete treatment of a single EMDR trauma target involves a three-pronged protocol to alleviate the symptoms and address the complete clinical picture. The speed to which you may move through the EMDR process is not the goal and it is important to remember that every client has different needs.
The three prongs include:
1.) Past memories
2.) Present disturbance
3.) Future actions
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). 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 an overwhelming feeling 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.
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 issues/experiences, to include:
- Panic Attacks
- Grief and loss
- Disturbing Memories
- PTSD and other trauma and stress-related issues
- Anxiety & Phobias
- Performance Anxiety
- Stress Reduction
- Motor Vehicle Accidents
- Self Worth
- Chronic illness
- Eating disorders
- Sleep disturbance
- Sexual and/or Physical Abuse
None of the above symptoms or experiences fit you?
Do you experience distressing emotions that appear to you, and perhaps to others, to be excessive given the current situation? Do you tend to be highly reactive to certain triggers? Is there one or more dysfunctional belief(s) that you believe about yourself that on an intellectual level you know is not true?
If so, you may be a good candidate for EMDR therapy! Contact me today to see if EMDR might help you release what no longer serves you, and get past your past.