Tell someone you’re going to therapy and they probably won’t conjure up images of eye and finger movements. But Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a different kind of mental health treatment. Relatively new (first clinical trial in 1989), EMDR has gained notoriety for its ability to help clients process traumatic memories. However, it is also being used for a wider range of disorders and issues.
You see, it is not always necessary to talk in detail about a distressing event in order to resolve it. Counterproductive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can be addressed and changed by letting your brain heal naturally.
How Does the Process of EMDR Work?
Like any treatment protocol, things will begin with taking a detailed history. But, from there, EMDR charts a unique course. Under the guidance of a skilled therapist, the client chooses a negative memory to focus on. They identify beliefs they’ve developed based on such memories and events. For example, if you were neglected as a child, you may believe you are not worthy of love.
From there, you choose a positive belief you want to have. In the case above, you may just want to feel worthy, secure, and safe. Once these choices have been made, eye movement can begin. Here’s a general idea of what happens next:
- While the client focuses on the negative memory and the physical sensations it causes, the therapist moves their fingers and hands directly in front of the client’s eyes.
- The client is guided to follow the rapid, side-to-side finger movements with their eyes.
- This induces a state similar to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
- In this state, a person can recall a traumatic memory without being triggered by it. Thus, they can finally process and resolve it.
- Next, you think about the positive belief and the physical sensations that come with it. In the EMDR state, you can more easily “replace” the negative belief with the positive belief.
If This Sounds Too Good to Be True…
Sure, but it’s designed to mesh with basic brain functioning. Using what’s called the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model, EMDR recognizes that the brain often stores bad memories in a dysfunctional manner. It allows you to access those memories in a setting that is safe and comfortable. What you and your therapist are doing is essentially repairing a storage issue, so the memory becomes accessible without triggering the trauma.
On top of this, EMDR can sometimes be a short-term protocol. Sessions are typically scheduled for once or twice a week and depending on therapist’s recommendation. If you are struggling only with the effect of a single incident, and have no comorbidities, EMDR therapy can be anywhere from 6 to 12 sessions.
However, short term EMDR therapy is not sufficient for most people. For example, if you have experienced multiple traumatic incidents, have had early life relationships which were traumatizing, or suffer with other comorbidities, it’s typical that longer term work is likely to be necessary.
EMDR can be a very useful part of a longer term trauma treatment. Some indicators that more in depth, comprehensive trauma treatment include:
Nevertheless, powerful, sustainable results are possible with this type of therapy.
Conditions and Problems for Which EMDR Can Help
EMDR is well-known for its stellar results in treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in as little as a handful of sessions. Here are just some of the other issues EMDR can help with:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Specific phobias
- Social Anxiety
- Eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge-Eating Disorder
- Major Depressive Disorder
- Persistent Depressive Disorder
- Gender Dysphoria
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Avoidant Personality Disorder
- Antisocial Personality Disorder
- Dissociative Identity Disorder
- Depersonalization or Derealization Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder
- Hoarding Disorder
How to Learn More About EMDR
I can easily imagine that the above information could inspire hope — and questions. EMDR is unusual, intriguing, and very promising. But, because it appears so unconventional, you may not know where to start. Therefore, I urge you to reach out to learn more.
Let’s connect for a consultation so you can ask questions about EMDR Therapy. It could be the first step on your journey toward healing and recovery.