What is EMDR?

EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma. EMDR is a set of standardized protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches. To date, EMDR therapy has helped millions of people of all ages relieve many types of psychological stress. EMDR isn’t talk therapy, nor is it some “magical” therapy. Trauma recovery is possible without EMDR. Talk therapy and prayer can work too. EMDR can accelerate the process and therefore can be more efficient.

How does EMDR work?

The brain stores raw information about the trauma in one part of the brain. The information is made up of sensory input, muscle memory, and resulting conclusions (feelings and beliefs). When a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment becomes “frozen in time,” and remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings have not changed. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people.

The goal of therapy is to reorganize the trauma information into to a more orderly story format. The chaos of the trauma becomes ordered. That sounds like healing, right? The client spends the majority of the session privately (in their mind, but with the counselor present) processing through the intense emotions. The client must re-experience the memories, but there is a sense that the client’s body/brain knows what to do (like it does during a dream). The EMDR equipment (lights, sounds, and tactile vibration) alternately stimulates the left and right sides of the body (as sensory input to the brain). This helps the client process their emotions (makes it move faster).

EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. Following a successful EMDR session, normal information processing is resumed and the client no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. The client remembers what happened, but it is less upsetting, or not upsetting at all. Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. EMDR processing is like a wakeful REM dream. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.

8 Phases of Treatment

The amount of time the complete treatment will take depends upon the history of the client. The goal of EMDR therapy is to process completely the experiences that are causing problems. The therapy is highly structured into these eight phases:

1. History and Treatment Planning — Gather enough history to proceed with treatment.
2. Preparation — Learning ways to cope with high levels of activated feelings.
3. Assessment — Identify the target memory.
4. Desensitization — Reduce (eliminate if possible) the strength of the negative belief.
5. Installation — Increase the strength of the positive belief.
6. Body Scan — Check body for any remaining tension.
7. Closure — End a session having completed processing, or at least in a calm state.
8. Reevaluation — Have positive results been retained?

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