Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has been around for the past 30 years. Yet, it is only now becoming a widely-used psychotherapy model for treating a multitude of issues, including post-traumatic stress. EMDR is a fascinating and ultimately beneficial type of therapy that shines light into dark periods of our lives. But what is EMDR therapy and how does it work?
Although we should always contact our doctor before trying a new type of therapy, EMDR might be helpful if we are dealing with anxiety, post-traumatic stress, or the emotional repercussions of abuse or neglect. Let’s take a closer look at what is EMDR therapy and how does it work.
What Is EMDR Therapy?
So, what is EMDR therapy and how does it work? First noted and studied by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1897, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a type of psychotherapy that assists people in working through difficult emotions that have arisen in lieu of traumatic life events. As of now, there have been over 30 studies conducted on EMDR therapy. Many of them reflect positive therapeutic outcomes for participants post-traumatic stress from singular or multiple traumas.
Given its effectiveness in treating major memory-based traumas, EMDR therapy is also now popularly used by therapists to treat symptoms of anxiety, and depression. It also focuses on other conditions which lead an individual to experience a low sense of self-worth or hopelessness.
What Types of Symptoms Can EMDR Therapy Treat?
If one is still wondering what is EMDR therapy and how does it work, one should know that EMDR was primarily developed to treat symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, it has been successfully employed in the treatment of individuals dealing with a wide array of issues. These issues can include:
- The death of a loved one;
- An accident that resulted in physical and/or psychological harm;
- Childhood traumas;
- Witnessing or being the victim of a crime;
- Enduring a natural disaster;
- Various types of abuse or neglect;
It has been found that EMDR is most effective when it is used in combination with other forms of treatment, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and/or medications. Overall, EMDR seems to do the best at treating the following symptoms:
- Memories stemming from a traumatic event;
- A lack of motivation;
- Severe anxiety;
- Emotions resulting from relationship issues;
- The fear of being alone;
- Struggling to trust other people;
- Intense and ultimately unrealistic self-shaming and guilt.
How Does EMDR Therapy Work?
EMDR therapy is generally administered in eight different phases. Through the use of bilateral stimulation, tactical stimulation, or eye movement, EMDR triggers opposing sides of the brain and allows for the release of trapped memories that linger in the body’s nervous system.
This essentially allows the neurophysiological aspect of the body to clear out these emotional blockages. Then it can become more balanced and harmonious.
EMDR Therapy Sessions
Let’s break down what is EMDR therapy and how does it work in terms of each session. EMDR therapy centers around an eight-phase approach to treatment.
- In Phase 1, the therapist and client discuss why the client is seeking treatment. Then, together, they plan the course of the therapy sessions. The first major step is working together to identify and define the targets that created issues for the client.
- In Phase 2, the therapist takes time to explain EMDR therapy, how it works, and what the client should expect. This is essentially the preparation part of treatment. It allows the client to ask questions and learn tips for relaxation.
- Then, in Phase 3, the therapist and client assess the client’s negative beliefs about themselves. The client chooses more positive beliefs to replace the negative ones. The assessment is made using the 1-7 Validity of Cognition scale.
- In Phase 4, the client learns how to deal with their emotional responses to events or things that they associate with the targeted traumatic memory.
- This is followed by the installation of the positive beliefs the client identifies in the preparation process. Therefore, this compromises Phase 5.
- Phase 6 involves the client noticing any reduction in tension or other physiological responses. The response comes to when the target is brought to mind. Therapy is successful when the client reports no bodily tension at all when the target appears in mind.
- Phase 7 brings closure. The client should feel controlled and comfortable with their target emotions and memories outside of the counseling office.
- Finally, Phase 8 involves the client re-evaluating their progress with the therapist. Therapy is then complete when the individual feels they have experienced genuine and enduring relief.
Depending on the severity of symptoms, total necessary sessions can number above ten. Phase 1 generally lasts for one or two sessions. Then, Phase 2 can take anywhere between one and four sessions. The goal is not for a speedy recovery but for a lasting one. So, some people might need more sessions than others.
Each session generally ranges from 60 to 90 minutes. Session length tends to vary by clinicians and their set schedules.
EMDR Therapy Outcomes
Although each person’s case is a bit different, they often reach their target objectives. Therefore, most clients experience a successful Phase 8. In 2014, Shapiro released a report stating that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy she had reviewed showed that EMDR therapy is quicker and/or more effective than CBT for people with emotional trauma. The report also noted that, during the eye movement component of the therapy, clients experience a major decrease in the vividness of their targeted traumatic memories and/or negative emotional responses.
Of course, studies are still being conducted as to what is EMDR therapy and how does it work for a variety of clients. Overall, it appears that EMDR therapy is highly successful in providing clients physical and emotional relief from their past traumatic experiences.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDT) therapy is not a new form of treatment for trauma and negative emotions. But it is quickly gaining ground due to the empirical evidence that supports its success. If one has experienced a traumatic event and/or is dealing with negative self-beliefs, EMDR therapy might be able to provide them with the relief they deserve.
If one has further questions about what is EMDR therapy and how does it work, they should not hesitate to reach out to an EMDR therapist. With their expertise, an EMDR therapist can help us reclaim our peace of mind.