What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR)
is a powerful psychotherapy tool that is used to treat . . .
- Disturbing Memories
- Traumatic Events
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Sexual Assault
- Childhood Abuse
- Panic Attacks
- Pain Disorders
- Eating Disorders
- Attachment Disorders
- Grief Recovery
EMDR is a specialized mental health treatment that has been found to alleviate distress from disturbing or traumatic events. It incorporates elements of several different therapies including cognitive/behavioral, psychodynamic, humanistic, family systems and Somatic Experiencing. EMDR is based on the premise that we have an innate tendency toward health and wholeness and helps us to realize the inherent healing mechanism within the human mind.
How Does EMDR Work?
EMDR was discovered in 1987 and has been rigorously researched through more than 20 controlled studies. The exact mechanism is still not clear, but it appears that EMDR has a direct effect on the way the brain organizes information. When we are traumatized, the brain is unable to process the event as it normally does. The memory and its attendant emotions are stored in a “raw” state, and present-day occurrences can trigger negative reactions arising from the event. EMDR seems to allow us to access that “raw” material in memory, allowing the brain to alter the “memory network” associated with the traumatic event.
Generally, EMDR uses an eight-phase protocol for each event that is processed. This includes taking a history; preparing the client; target identification; processing the past, present, and future aspects of the event; and ongoing evaluation of progress or new material that may emerge. The processing of a target involves sets of bilateral stimulation – usually eye movements – while focusing on aspects of the event. The client reports what he/she is experiencing between each “set” of eye movements. At the end of treatment, disturbing memories and situations that trigger them should no longer be a problem and new healthy responses are possible.
What Happens in EMDR Sessions?
- The therapist will do a thorough history and assess how well you are currently managing with the problem, and with your life in general.
- Together, you and your therapist will identify the past traumatic event, recalling visual, auditory, emotional and physiological cues.
- With the identified “target”, you and the therapist will “scale” or rate the intensity of thoughts and feelings associated with it. This is to help track your progress as your brain does its work of reprocessing the event.
- The therapist will do a series of bilateral stimulations (eye movements, tapping or another stimulus the two of you decide upon) while you report what you experience in terms of thoughts, feelings or body sensations. It takes several sets of eye movements to initiate the process of “desensitizing”.
- The therapist will continue the sets until you report little or no disturbance associated with the target. (This can take several minutes to several sessions, depending on subjective intensity of the disturbance.)
- Eye movements continue to “reprocess” and reinforce positive and adaptive thinking that is now associated with the target. The therapist will also work on present-day or future manifestations of the disturbance.
How Many EMDR Sessions are needed?
The number of sessions will depend on the specific problem and your psychological history. Another factor is your ability to deal with strong emotions that may arise during processing. (Your therapist will teach self-soothing techniques prior to EMDR work.) Studies show that a single trauma can be “cleared” within three sessions in 80-90% of clients. Multiple traumas or a long history of trauma may require more sessions, with treatment lasting a few weeks to several months.
Therapists who treat with EMDR are required to have 40 hours of approved training and practicum. It is recommended that EMDR therapists have ongoing professional consultation with an approved EMDR consultant. Despite these measures to ensure effectiveness and safety, potential clients should be aware that there are some risks associated with EMDR, as with any other therapy.
- There may be a temporary increase in distress.
- Disturbing, unresolved material may surface during the sets.
- Clients may experience unanticipated emotional or physiological reactions.
- Processing may continue after the client leaves the therapist’s office, though this is not necessarily a bad thing.
As mentioned above, the practice of EMDR utilizes safety measures which the therapist teaches to the client prior to the initiation of treatment.
EMDR Is Not Recommended:
- For clients with severe dissociative symptoms
- For clients unable to self-soothe
- For clients with psychotic symptoms
It’s not only major traumas that cause distress. The day-to-day hardships and occurrences that come with everyday living can greatly inhibit our ability to enjoy and fully participate in our lives. EMDR has been used successfully to treat these little “t” traumas:
- job stress
- conflict at home
- new job jitters
- job termination
- test anxiety
- body memory
- conflict at work
- lover’s quarrel
- road rage
- habit control
- social anxiety
- divorce recovery
Plus, EMDR is an excellent tool for working on:
- Public speaking
- Writer’s block
- Life Transitions
- Career and Life coaching
- Body image
- Artist’s block
- Performance enhancement
Material in this section is adapted from information provided by the EMDR Institute and the EMDR International Association. For more information, check out these websites:
The EMDR International Association
The EMDR Institute