Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
What is EMDR?
EMDR is a highly effective and powerful psychotherapy treatment used to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. Difficult life events that remain unresolved can be stored deep within the brain’s limbic system and these unresolved memories often negatively impact our current life. Through the use of bilateral stimulation EMDR therapy aids the client in reprocessing these difficult memories with the goal of bringing relief to problematic symptoms experienced in the present.
How does EMDR work?
Through EMDR new associations are created between the traumatic memory and more adaptive memories resulting in new learning, elimination of emotional distress, and development of cognitive insights. EMDR is thought to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, it has a direct effect on the way the brain processes information.
What is an actual EMDR session like?
A specific problem or trauma is most often the target of the EMDR session. The client calls to mind what was seen, felt, heard, and the thoughts and beliefs about that event, self, and the world. While focusing on the disturbing material, the therapist facilitates bilateral stimulation (achieved through a variety of means, right and left eye movements, audio, or tactile sensors held in the palms of the hand). The client may experience intense emotion during the recalling of a disturbing memory, but by the end of the session there is usually a reduction in the level of disturbance. The client maintains “dual attention,” by being present to his/her current surroundings while at the same time recalling the memory. EMDR does not put clients into trances or hypnotic states. While the therapist facilitates the process, the client is always in control.
How long does EMDR take?
There are eight phases to EMDR therapy. Phase 1 involves history taking and the identification of target memories for reprocessing. Phase 2 involves aiding the client in the development of resources to reduce current distress. Phases 3-6 involve memory reprocessing utilizing bilateral stimulation. Phase 7 involves the client tracking their experience after a reprocessing session and phase 8 involves the therapist and client evaluating progress. The number of sessions depends upon the specific issue and the client history. A single incident of trauma can be processed within as little as 3-4 sessions. However, the majority of issues that arise tend to be more complex. Assessing readiness for memory processing and establishing some present stability is necessary. An average estimate for EMDR therapy is 6 months.
Does EMDR really work?
EMDR is an empirically supported treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Multiple controlled studies have found EMDR to effectively decrease and/or eliminate symptoms such a nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety and hypervigilance that happen with PTSD. EMDR is also being used to treat many other concerns including depression, anxiety, phobias, and eating disorders.
For more information about EMDR visit the EMDR Institute, Inc.