Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR)

What is Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing?

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (also known as EMDR) is a therapeutic treatment method specifically created for psychologically traumatized individuals. 

It is a structured therapy, guided by the Adaptive Information Processing model, but unlike most psychotherapy treatments, EMDR does not rely on talk therapy or medications, instead, it requires that the patient temporarily concentrates on the traumatic memory, and draws up the emotions and feelings associated with that memory, while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation (typically side to side eye movements) which instigates a trance-like state. 

It is a highly technical process that if applied correctly, by a trained professional (EMDR therapist), has a high likelihood of lessening the vividness of the traumatic memory and dissociating the intense negative emotion(s) associated with that traumatic event.

EMDR was initially developed in 1987 by Dr. Francine Shapiro for the treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but has since grown to be effective for treating other mental health conditions such as anxiety, eating disorders, panic attacks, addictions, and many others, due to its impressive success rate. 

How Does Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Work?

The past, present, and future are each given separate consideration in eye movement desensitization reprocessing therapy. Focus is placed on those upsetting memories and associated events that occurred in the past, then there’s a progression toward the distressing situations that are currently happening. Finally, significant effort is directed toward the development of skills and the right mindsets required for future positive behavior.

These items are addressed in EMDR therapy using an eight-phase treatment strategy, and they are as follows: 

History Taking 

Through proper assessment and analysis, the EMDR therapist works closely with the patient to determine and outline the history of the traumatic memory, event, and trigger, after which they map out a unique treatment plan for that patient.

Client Preparation

In the second phase of this treatment strategy, the therapist presents the treatment plan to the client, offers an explanation as to why it would be effective, and then begins introducing the patient to the procedures involved. This is done to ensure the patient has the adequate mental capacity to handle the treatment plan. 

Assessment

In this phase, the therapist targets and activates the traumatic memory by identifying and assessing each of the most important memory components: image, cognition or thought, emotion, and sensation.

Desensitization

In the fourth phase of treatment, the therapist focuses on the target memory components  (as mentioned above), while simultaneously performing bilateral stimulation (typically side-to-side eye movement). The patient is asked to report whatever new thought, feeling, image, memory, or sensation that they recall while the therapist focuses on using the next bilateral stimulation to shift their attention towards the positive perspective of that traumatic memory.

Installation

Here the objective of the EMDR therapist is to reinforce the already established positive perspective or cognition in the mind of the patient.

Body Scan

In this phase, the therapist requests that the patient revisits the traumatic memory while thinking about it from a positive perspective. The therapist then observes the patient’s physical reaction for any residual signs of somatic distress.

Closure

The goal of EMDR in this phase is to serve as a reminder of the progress made and to ensure the client doesn’t regress after the conclusion of the current session. Here the therapist provides closure by asking the patient to keep a log (diary) documenting any related stimulus that may arise during the week.

Reevaluation

Phase eight or the reevaluation phase involves the examination of the progress made so far and the identification of areas to make adjustments.

Why Is Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Therapy Important?

Eye movement desensitization reprocessing therapy is important simply for the following reasons:

  • With the guidance of a professional (an EMDR psychotherapist), patients will be able to overcome long-term trauma that has been limiting their progress and personal development.
  • Patients will be able to have a positive outlook or point of view on life and heal from the damage of upsetting memories and associated events that occurred in the past, as well as distressing situations that are currently happening. 
  • Patients will also develop and utilize the necessary skills, techniques, and mindset required for future positive behavior.
  • At the end of the successful completion of EMDR therapy, patients will be able to experience physiological reconciliation, alleviated discomfort, and the capacity to reformulate unfavorable beliefs.

Who Does Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Benefit?

Eye movement desensitization reprocessing therapy is an effective treatment option for people suffering from: 

  • Trauma
  • Panic Disorder
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
  • Or, Anxiety.

EMDR is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has undergone significant research and has proven to be an effective treatment method for the above-mentioned psychological conditions.

Some studies also show EMDR being effective for the treatment of people with a variety of mental health conditions. Patients of all ages, from adolescents and teenagers to full-grown adults, can benefit from this treatment method, and some healthcare providers who specialize in providing therapy for children also utilize EMDR as a valid treatment method.

How Will I Know If EMDR Is For Me?

The ability of your mind and body to work through your thoughts and emotions is what eye movement desensitization reprocessing therapy focuses on, so in the end, it all comes down to you. In order to determine if EMDR is right for you, you need to reflect on these two questions:

  • Am I ready to put in the work necessary for this kind of psychological treatment?
  • Am I capable of processing my emotions?

If you’re unable to process your emotions or you often get overwhelmed by them and in the process shut down, then you may not be ready for EMDR therapy (YET!).

How Long Does EMDR Last?

As mentioned in the section on “How does Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Work?”, EMDR is an individual therapy typically delivered one to two times per week in sessions that last up to 90 minutes for a total of 6-12 sessions (over a duration of 6 months).

It is relatively short, it is precise and it is result driven. 

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