What is EMDR Therapy and what are its benefits?

Many of you may have heard of EMDR. EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy is an interactive psychotherapy that is done in an eight‐phase approach. It is used to relieve psychological distress by accessing and processing the memories related with the clients distressing symptoms. During EMDR the therapist assists the client in identifying and focalizing the current problems that triggered the distress, then assists them in incorporating memory templates for appropriate future actions. The therapist also assists the client in developing internal resources aimed at reshaping necessary behaviors leading to optimum emotional and physiological functioning. During EMDR therapy sessions, the client relives traumatic or distressing experiences in brief doses during which time the therapist directs the clients eye movements.

Why is EMDR effective in decreasing the symptoms associated with distressing memories?

Research indicates that traumatic memories change how the brain functions, resulting in the mind not processing information effectively. This leads to anxiety and intrusive thoughts. The theory behind why EMDR is effective is because recalling distressing events is less emotionally triggering when the individuals attention is diverted to a mindfulness activity. Research indicates that mindfulness activities can rewire the brain returning it to normal functioning. The diversion to the mindfulness activity allows the individual to be exposed to the memories or thoughts while experiencing a calm psychological response. This allows the brain to process the memories correctly and integrate them. The research indicates, that over time, EMDR lessens the impact that the memories or thoughts have on the individual.

What is an EMDR session like?

There are eight phases to EMDR treatment so sessions may vary. Treatment usually takes twelve separate sessions.

  • The first phase of treatment involves taking an extensive history and developing a comprehensive treatment plan. During these sessions the therapist gathers and reviews information related to the clients history, as well as evaluating where the client is in their healing process. During this phase specific memories are explored as potential memories for processing.
  • The second phase of treatment is the preparation phase. During this phase the therapist assists the client in strengthening their internal resources so that they can more effectively manage the emotional or physiological distress they are experiencing in response to their memories. These stress management techniques include mindfulness activities.
  • The third phase of treatment is the assessment phase where the therapist assists the client in identifying the specific memories that they wish to target. They also identify the associated symptoms, such as the physical body sensations and specific emotional responses that are activated when the client concentrates on the event.
  • Phases four through seven of treatment are where specific EMDR therapy techniques are utilized to treat the targeted memories. During these sessions the therapist will ask the client to call up a negative thought, emotion, memory, physical sensation, or image. While the client is focusing on this, the therapist will simultaneously have the client’s eyes follow the therapist’s fingers or an object they are holding as they move from side to side. As the client is following the finger or object from side to side, the therapist will instruct the client to try and let go of controlling their thoughts and instead just notice them. This focus often leads the client’s mind to go blank as they begin to distance from the recalled stimuli.The therapist may also instruct the client to do bilateral stimulation including tapping or listening to music on headphones. If the client becomes distressed, the therapist will assist them in returning to the present moment before moving on to another traumatic memory. Research indicates that over time, the distressing symptoms of a particular thought, image, or memory should start to fade.
  • Phase eight is the evaluation phase. It is generally the last phase of treatment where the client is asked to evaluate their progress. The therapist will do the same. If symptoms are still present for any negative thought, emotion, memory, physical sensation, or image, the therapist may return the client to phases four through seven of treatment. Therapy is over when the client feels that the negative thoughts, emotions, memories, physical sensations, and images no longer cause distress and they have developed the internal resources to manage new distressing experiences.

What types of issues is EMDR effective for treating?

Many believe that EMDR therapy is particularly effective for individuals who struggle to talk about their past experiences. Research indicates that individuals struggling with any of the following issues may benefit from EMDR therapy:

  • Addictons
  • Anxiety
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Chronic pain and phantom pain
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Phobias
  • Psychotic symptoms
  • PTSD
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Stress-induced flare-ups of skin problems

If you are struggling with any of the above symptoms you might benefit from participating in EMDR therapy. If this intrigues you please contact WellPath Counseling to schedule a consultation at info@wellpathcounseling.com or 503-803-9545.