The scope of mental health treatment is ever expansive and includes a diverse array of specialties and disciplines.
EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, is one of those. It has become an acknowledged treatment since it was developed over 30 years ago for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and panic and anxiety disorders.
Today, we look at EMDR and how it is used to treat PTSD.
What is EMDR?
EMDR is what is known as an integrative psychotherapy approach.
It uses standardized protocols applying different elements of treatment in eight phases. The treatment reconnects the client to traumatic memories and the negative self-thoughts and emotions they experience, empowering them to use their brain’s natural healing powers to deal with the trauma.
EMDR clinicians unravel the symptoms that interfere with the brain’s ability to heal, helping clients safely re-experience the trauma to change related behaviors.
After a traumatic event, the pain and sense of danger are so intense that people become mired in negative emotions that stimulate negative beliefs. EMDR undoes negative cognitions by repeating the memories until they become less disturbing, so new behaviors surrounding the memories are learned.
The Eight Phases of EMDR
The eight-phase treatment identifies the traumatic experiences overwhelming the brain so the clinician can address the trauma and trigger the client’s natural coping capacity.
By safely reprocessing the traumatic information, clients reduce the disruptive effect their traumatic memories have on their brains, so memories of the event no longer create the negative feelings that trigger debilitating symptoms.
The eight phases of EMDR include:
- History taking
- Client preparation
- Body scan
- Reevaluation of treatment effect
During therapy, the client is taught to change their view of themselves by removing the adverse reactions to their memories and associating them with something positive instead. For example, behaviors people with PTSD display often relate to the feeling they deserve what happened. EMDR teaches them to stop that vein of self-destructive thinking and instead learn to see they are worthwhile and can take control of their life.
How Does EMDR Work?
EMDR therapy identifies the negative sensations and emotions related to traumatic memories and applies external stimuli to create rapid (or bilateral) eye movement.
The stimulus might involve watching finger movements or finger tapping. When the clinician sees the bilateral eye movements, they ask the client how they are feeling and continue the process until the memory is no longer disturbing.
A positive belief or “cognition” is then presented to replace negative beliefs. The bilateral stimulation helps the brain bypass the memory processing area stuck in trauma that prevents healing. As a result, clients process the memory safely, revealing insights about the event and negative thought processes causing them conflict.
The American Psychiatric Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Defense, the United Kingdom Department of Health, and the Israeli National Council for Mental Health are just a few of the associations endorsing EMDR to treat PTSD. The EMDR Institute, Inc. reports that 84-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute sessions.
As more and more people recognize and acknowledge the trauma they’ve suffered, safe and effective treatments like EMDR are more relevant than ever. For many, EMDR can signify a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to PTSD, helping to create a future filled with hope and possibility.
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