What is EMDR?
EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a type of psychotherapy that assists individuals in healing from symptoms and emotional/physical distress that they are experiencing due to experiences in life that were difficult or traumatic. Research has shown that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much like the body can recover from physical illness or injury. The brain’s information processing system is designed to move towards mental health. However, if the system is blocked or imbalanced as a result of a disturbing event, the psychological and emotional wound can lead to long term suffering. Research has shown that once the block is removed, healing resumes and the psychological and emotional distress decreases and resolves. EMDR assists in removing these blocks so that the brain can integrate the disturbing events and heal the wounding that the events caused.
What the research says?
There have been over 30 controlled outcome studies done that show the efficacy of EMDR therapy. These studies have shown that 84%-90% of single-case trauma victims (for example, a car accident) no longer have symptoms after EMDR therapy. Other studies have shown that 77% of individuals who experienced multiple traumas or childhood attachment traumas no longer met the criteria for PTSD after EMDR therapy. In fact, so much research has been done that the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization, and the Department of Defense all recognize EMDR as an effective and recommended treatment for trauma and disturbing events. Given the efficacy of EMDR in treating trauma, you can see how it would also be effective in treating “everyday” memories that lead to low self esteem, feelings of powerlessness, and the other issues that bring individuals into therapy.
What exactly does treatment with EMDR look like?
EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment and involves three time periods: the past, present, and future. Focus during EMDR is given to past disturbing memories and negative belief systems about self. It can also be used for current life situations that are causing distress, as well as to assist clients in developing skills and attitudes needed for positive future outcomes. The eight phases are as follows:
Phase 1: During phase 1 a full client history is taken over the course of several sessions. The information gathered assists the therapist in assessing the client’s readiness for treatment and with the client a treatment plan is developed. The client and the therapist identify possible targets (memories/belief systems) for EMDR processing. Treatment length depends upon the number of traumas and attachment disruptions the client has experienced.
Phase 2: During this phase of treatment, the therapist assists the client in developing several coping skills that help them manage emotional distress. Often these include the client being taught a variety of imagery and stress reduction techniques that they can use during and between sessions. One of the goals of EMDR therapy is to produce rapid and effective change while maintaining the clients equilibrium during and between sessions.
Phases 3-6: During phases three to six, the client and the therapist select a target and process it using EMDR therapy procedures. The therapists assists the client in identifying:
- The vivid visual image related to the memory
- A negative belief about self and a positive belief they’d rather have
- Related emotions and body sensations
- The emotion associated with the memory
- The intensity of the negative emotions (scale of 1 to 10) and the positive belief intensity (scale of 1 to 7)
After these items have been identified that therapists instructs the client to focus on the image, negative thought, and body sensations while simultaneously engaging in EMDR processing using sets of bilateral stimulation (for example, eye movements, taps, or tones). The client is instructed to just notice. The length and type of sets is different for each client.
After each set of stimulation, the therapist instructs the client to let their mind go blank and notice the thought, feeling, image, memory, or sensation that comes to mind. Depending on what is noticed additional sets of bilateral stimulation may be instructed or the therapist may assist in grounding the client in the present moment. EMDR bilateral stimulation sets continue until the rate of intensity of distress decreases and the positive belief increases.
Phase 7: During this phase, the therapist asks the client to keep a log during the week. This log is designed to document any related material that may arise. It also serves to remind the client of the self-calming activities that were mastered in phase two.
Phase 8: After all targets have been processed with EMDR phase eight begins. This phase consists of examining the progress made. EMDR treatment ends when all related historical events and current incidents that elicit distress have been processed, and future events that will require different responses have been identified and installed with positive skills.
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