EDMR therapy has been used for decades to help treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more.
I am a licensed clinical social worker, yoga instructor, and trauma survivor. Personally and professionally, I am no stranger to what it’s like to walk in the dark, and the courage it takes to heal your wounds.
Over the years, I’ve gravitated to many forms of healing that have been useful for me and for my clients as they heal the wounds of trauma. Yoga, reiki, massage, meditation, mindfulness, nutrition, nature, and therapy are all tools in my healing toolkit. One specific tool in the world of psychotherapy I’d like to share with you is EMDR therapy.
EMDR is a life-changing therapy that has personally affected me for the better, along with countless clients I’ve worked with over the years. I was sexually assaulted when a sophomore in college. I carried that trauma with me for years, which took a disastrous toll on my mental and physical health. I struggled with body issues, using drugs and alcohol to numb out, and many symptoms of PTSD. Later in life, I experienced another significant trauma, which was full of betrayal and complicated grief.
As I embarked on my healing journey for both of these traumas, EMDR was one of the most impactful therapies for me. It changed my relationship to my traumas, in a way that I no longer relive them or feel hijacked by the grief and loss of them when I think of those experiences. I’ve seen it do the same for hundreds of clients, and I’d like to share a bit about how it works with you.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy technique that has gained popularity in recent years for its effectiveness in treating a range of psychological conditions. Initially developed in the late 1980s by psychologist Francine Shapiro, EMDR is based on the idea that traumatic experiences can become “stuck” in the brain and continue to cause distress long after the event has passed.
By using specific techniques that involve bilateral stimulation of the brain, EMDR aims to reprocess traumatic memories and alleviate associated symptoms. While initially controversial, EMDR has since gained widespread acceptance as a valuable therapy for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. As we delve deeper into the world of EMDR therapy, it becomes clear that this approach holds tremendous promise for those who suffer from the effects of trauma and other psychological conditions.
What is EMDR and what can it be used to treat?
EMDR therapy is a type of psychotherapy that uses a structured approach to help individuals process traumatic events that they have experienced. It involves a series of standardized procedures that incorporate eye movements, hand taps, or sounds while the individual recalls the traumatic event. The goal of EMDR is to help the individual process the traumatic event and reduce the emotional distress associated with it.
EMDR is commonly used to treat individuals who have experienced trauma, such as those who have been in a car accident, witnessed violence, experienced sexual assault, or suffered from a natural disaster. It is also used to treat individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and addiction.
How does EMDR work?
Bilateral stimulation is believed to play a role in the processing of traumatic events during EMDR therapy. This may be provided in the form of eye movements, alternating tones, or tapping. The bilateral stimulation used during EMDR may help stimulate the brain’s natural healing process by activating both hemispheres of the brain. Bilateral is also believed to tax the memory addressed with EMDR, by causing a bit of a distraction, which allows the memory to “break” or lose its emotional intensity. This facilitates the processing of traumatic memories and reduces the emotional distress associated with them.
During EMDR therapy, the individual is asked to recall the traumatic event while engaging in a series of eye movements, hand taps, or sounds. This helps the individual process the traumatic event and reduce the emotional distress associated with it.
What is an EMDR therapy session like?
The process of an EMDR session typically begins with the therapist conducting an assessment to gather information about the client’s history, symptoms, and therapy goals. The therapist will also provide information about the EMDR process and answer any questions the client may have.
Once the therapist and client have identified target memories that are causing distressing symptoms, specific EMDR techniques are employed. A structured protocol is used to activate the memory, and then sets of bilateral stimulation are provided to support memory integration and reprocessing to reach a point of resolution. Throughout the session, the therapist helps the client maintain dual awareness to stay grounded in the present moment while processing difficult emotions and memories.
As the client works through the target memory, changes may occur in distressing emotions, thoughts, images, and body sensations. The images may fade or become fuzzy, negative emotions and thoughts may resolve, and the client may experience a complete reduction in distressing body sensations. The target memory is considered fully reprocessed when the client can think of the experience without experiencing any negative emotions or distress.
At the end of the session, the therapist helps the client reorient to the present moment and feel safe and grounded before leaving. The experience of an EMDR session can vary from one client to another, and some clients may require additional grounding and soothing skills to regulate themselves after a session. The therapist may also provide recommendations for skills to practice between sessions to support the healing process.
It is important to note that the therapist will collaborate with the client to tailor the therapy to their specific situation and goals. The length of time it takes to process target memories varies from client to client, with some experiencing quicker resolution than others.
What makes a good candidate for EMDR?
EMDR may be a good treatment option for individuals who have experienced trauma and struggle with symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Some factors that may make someone a good candidate for EMDR include:
>> They have experienced a traumatic event and are struggling with symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
>> They are motivated to participate in the therapy and are willing to engage in structured procedures.
>> They have a supportive network of family and friends who can provide emotional support during the therapy.
>> They can tolerate emotions and physical sensations.
Soothing uncertainties about EMDR.
EMDR has been the subject of some controversy in the mental health community. Once considered pseudoscience, EMDR is now a highly researched, evidence-based therapy, that is recommended as a first-line treatment for PTSD. Over 40 clinical trial studies have shown that EMDR can be an effective treatment for individuals who have experienced trauma and suffer from PTSD.
No matter the case, it is important to work with a trained therapist experienced in the use of EMDR and carefully consider whether it is the right treatment option for you. If you are struggling with the effects of trauma, talking to a mental health professional can help you determine the best course of treatment for your specific needs.