Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, or EMDR, is a form of therapy used to treat patients with traumatic memories. Trauma causes disturbing, overwhelming, and intrusive symptoms that can affect a person’s daily life. EMDR aims to provide healing and relief to people suffering from psychological trauma.
Trauma takes place in many different ways, and unexpected and overwhelming events leave a lasting impact on many people. Some have difficulties processing the events properly, which causes them to develop ongoing symptoms as a result. EMDR is a perfect treatment option for these people.
What is EMDR and how does it help people heal their traumatic memories? How does a typical treatment session go and what can you expect? Are you looking for the help of EMDR in Pennsylvania and want to understand more? Learn more about eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy as you continue reading.
What is EMDR?
EMDR was created in 1987 specifically to treat people with post-traumatic stress disorder. Previous methods used at the time focused on treating the symptoms of PTSD. EMDR shifted the focus to the traumatic memories themselves in order to treat the cause of the problem. This led to the relief or the elimination of patients’ PTSD symptoms.
The unique aspect of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy is its use of bilateral stimulation. Bilateral stimulation refers to the encouragement of left-right, back-and-forth stimulation using eye movements, audio tones, or physical taps. Incorporating this practice helps activate then reduce the intensity of the patient’s traumatic memories.
Unhealed trauma can cause numerous symptoms and overall emotional distress that lasts long after the event happened. There are dozens of situations that might lead to this long-lasting impact on a person’s life. EMDR can treat unhealed trauma resulting from:
- Spending time in war or active combat, as either a soldier or civilian
- Severe car accidents
- Close-range, violent assaults (i.e. mugging or stabbing)
- Acts of terrorism
- Witnessing a violent crime
- Sexual assault or abuse
- Extreme neglect, especially during childhood years
Who Can EMDR Help?
EMDR is uniquely useful for treating PTSD due to its focus on the source of a patient’s symptoms. Unpacking and healing their traumatic memories leads to lasting results, instead of only looking at the symptoms caused by those memories.
It’s also helpful for treating other mental disorders that might result from trauma. For example, some people with depression or anxiety find EMDR to be a helpful way to process past experiences. People with alcohol or substance use disorder also find help with working through their responses to past trauma.
How Does EMDR Work?
Eye movement reprocessing and desensitization therapy is a focused and intentional form of treatment. Uncovering and looking at traumatic events can be a distressing process. Therapists work hard to make sure the process is both efficient and effective so they don’t draw treatment out longer than necessary.
EMDR usually takes place during 6 to 12 sessions that are delivered one or two times per week. The treatment itself is structured into eight phases:
Phase 1: Gathering History and Developing a Treatment Plan
The first phase of treatment involves the therapist gathering a full history of the patient during an initial assessment. They discuss present-day triggers, uncover any potential barriers, and determine specific memories to target. Patients also establish goals for their treatment process.
Phase 2: Patient Preparation
Phase two involves therapists walking their patients through the type of treatment about to take place. They introduce the patient to the bilateral stimulation they’ll use during treatment. Therapists and patients work together to develop safe coping skills to use during difficult moments in between treatment sessions.
Phase 3: Assess the Target Memory
During phase three, the therapist has the patient focus on their target memory. They ask patients to describe various components associated with it, including image, thoughts, its effect on them, and their bodily sensations.
Phases 4 to 7: Treatment
Phases four to seven involve the treatment process used to heal the patient’s unresolved traumatic memories. The steps used during treatment include:
- Desensitization: Patients focus on the memory while the therapist conducts bilateral stimulation. They are asked to report any new thoughts or lessened distress associated with the memory.
- Installation: Associates a healthier understanding of the meaning of the traumatic event.
- Body Scan: Therapists ask their patients to conduct a body scan, observing any physical reactions to the memory. If any distress is present, the therapist uses bilateral stimulation to target it.
- Closure: Each session ends with closure. During sessions that the target memory isn’t fully processed, therapists and their patients go over coping mechanisms to use between sessions.
Phase 8: Evaluation and Conclusion
Phase eight takes place during the next session. Therapists assess their patient’s mental and emotional wellbeing, how treatment is going, and identifies any new memories. They determine the plan for the day’s session and begin treatment.