What happens in EMDR therapy?
These days, there are many treatment techniques available for addressing trauma. In fact, you may have heard about one of these treatments: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
EMDR has been shown to be an especially effective way of helping those who have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
However, while you may have heard of it, you might still be wondering: What exactly happens in EMDR therapy? How does it work? Can it help me with resolving my trauma?
These are all reasonable questions. So, let’s take a closer look at what EMDR is and how it could be helpful for you.
How Does an EMDR Session Proceed?
EMDR is a psychotherapeutic treatment that takes place over eight phases. These phases include:
- An initial meeting to gather a patient history and develop a treatment plan
- Learning techniques to manage stressful emotions that occur during an EMDR session
- Identifying the traumatic and painful memories that cause stress, as well as identifying with which positive thoughts to replace the feeling of pain and negativity associated with the traumatic memories.
- Desensitization, where you recall a memory while, at the same time, the therapist uses bilateral stimulation to aid in the reprocessing.
- Replacing the negative thoughts with more positive ones, also called Installation.
- Identifying physical sensations associated with the memories through a body scan.
- Establishing closure at the end of an EMDR session.
- Assessing how effective the treatment session has been.
Phases 3-7 can occur in a single EMDR session while phase 8 usually starts the next session. Typically, it will be necessary to repeat these phases several times as there are often multiple traumatic memories to process.
What Part Does the Bilateral Movements Phase Play?
Eye movements (or bilateral movements) are a central part of what happens in an EMDR therapy session.
While you’re recalling a memory, a therapist passes their finger, hand, or another object (such as a pen) back-and-forth in front of you and ask you to follow it with your eyes. They may also use alternating lights to affect the bilateral movement. Or they might tap your knees with their hands, switching back and forth from left to right, and ask you to concentrate on that sensation.
It is thought that this process simulates effects similar to what your brain experiences during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The alternating stimulation of the two hemispheres of your brain to process daily events.
Thus, as a treatment for PTSD, this very simple technique can help your brain process traumatic memories as well. Not only does it help you to detach negative and painful emotions from these traumatic memories, but you’re also able to replace these emotions with more positive ones.
The Need to Recall Memories
As you have gathered, EMDR therapy involves recalling very painful and distressing memories. If you’re suffering from trauma, you might have spent years trying to forget those memories. So, why would you want to recall them?
The problem is that suppressing your traumatic memories also means that your brain never has a chance to resolve those memories. In fact, it actually thinks that you are still in danger, even if the events surrounding that trauma happened years ago. This keeps you stuck.
While the prospect of having to recall traumatic memories can be troubling, here’s why you should not that stop you to try out EMDR:
- You learn healthy coping skills before beginning the recall process, such as breathing techniques and more.
- The therapist will not ask you to speak or go into detail about what you are experiencing. It is already tough enough to recall memory, let alone having to describe it to someone else.
- If things get too intense, you can stop the session. This actually helps give you and the therapist a good idea of where to start next time.
- You are learning to replace the negative emotion associated with the memory with one that is positive. That means, even when the memory pops up in the future, it no longer has a painful impact on you.
Hopefully, this brief look into what happens in EMDR therapy, as opposed to other treatment techniques, has given you an incentive to try it out. Research has shown that EMDR is one of the most effective ways to change the narrative of traumatic memories. And once your brain has processed those thoughts, it becomes so much easier to relax and feel less anxious every day of your life.
If you’re interested in trying out EMDR therapy, please feel free to contact me. I’m an experienced EMDR therapist. It would be my pleasure to use my skills to help change your life.