Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of psychotherapy that seeks to alleviate the effects of trauma. Its use is meant to support the brain in processing past trauma experiences that might manifest in mental or physical ailments in the present. It is built on the premise that trauma causes lasting changes in the body and brain. When not fully processed or addressed, that trauma lingers and causes issues.
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What Is EMDR Therapy?
Present experiences can trigger memories. The smell of baking bread might take you back to your childhood kitchen. Or the smell of fresh-cut grass might make you remember days on the ball field. Just like the way positive associations form, negative associations can also form. Sights, sounds, smells, and environments can trigger past trauma or negative experiences. This is most common in post-traumatic stress disorder, though it is by no means limited to just people with that disorder.
EMDR is an approach specifically designed to reduce the impact of trauma and support the brain’s ability to process previous trauma. This type of treatment involves a therapist guiding a patient through eye movements as they are asked to recall their trauma. The memories the patient is asked to conjure throughout multiple sessions should cause less and less distress as the brain fully processes what occurred.
EMDR is most prominently used to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and trauma. It also has applications for mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, particularly rooted in trauma.
8 Phases of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
EMDR therapy involves eight phases that are delivered across multiple sessions. A round of EMDR therapy can last anywhere from six to 12 sessions, each lasting as long as one hour.
Like most therapeutic interventions, EMDR begins by defining a patient’s history and mapping out a treatment plan. In this stage, the therapist will guide the patient in identifying the memories addressed during therapy. Next comes preparation. Being asked to recall disturbing, painful memories is fraught. Learning to cope with stress during treatment is critical to experiencing the full benefit. This typically involves learning mindfulness and stress reduction techniques.
The third phase is when the specific memory is selected. Patients are prepped in selecting the memory and what to focus on during recall. This may include negative self-beliefs, distressing thoughts or images, and emotions or physical responses. Phases four through seven make up the actual treatment, which takes patients through four steps: desensitization, installation, body scan, and closure.
The final step before a new treatment session can take place is re-evaluation. At this point, the therapist determines if the memory recalled during previous sessions needs more attention and asks the patient to recap their experience from the last session.
How Effective Is EMDR Therapy?
For people who associate therapy sessions with drawn-out conversations and intense discussions, EMDR’s approach may seem odd. How can eye movements decrease the impact of trauma on the body? Medical experts aren’t entirely sure why this technique works to alleviate trauma. One theory is that the directed eye movements give patients something to focus on while accessing triggering memories that frees the brain up to resolve the pain.
Research over the first decades of EMDR’s implementation is positive in relation to its effectiveness. It can:
- Resolve emotional distress
- Ease trauma-induced symptoms like muscle tension and chronic pain
- Work quicker and more effectively than cognitive-behavioral therapy when applied to trauma or PTSD
Find out how EMDR therapy can benefit you or a loved one by calling [Direct].