How Does EMDR Therapy Work?
Learn how eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy helps people work through traumatic events in their past.
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If you’re looking for a therapist or researching different methods of therapy, you may have stumbled upon information about EMDR therapy. EMDR, short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, helps thousands of people who struggle with trauma get back to a more stable state of mind.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are forms of talk therapy. People meet with a therapist and target memories or triggers that cause negative thoughts, beliefs, or behaviors. Some individuals don’t respond well to regular talk therapy so clinicians looked for other methods to help.
EMDR was one of the answers to this search for alternative types of therapy. Do you understand what exactly it entails? Continue reading to learn more about EMDR therapy, how it works, who it helps, and if it can help you.
What is EMDR Therapy and Who Does it Help?
Clinicians introduced Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy in the late 1980s as an alternative to CBT and DBT. They found that some people who experienced severe traumas in their past did not respond well to talk therapy alone. EMDR came about as another option when seeking treatment.
EMDR is a unique form of therapy that incorporates visual cues into the therapy session. You follow the visual cue, usually a therapist’s hand, pointer finger, or lights on an EMDR-specific light board, as it moves side to side. While CBT and DBT use only verbal communication, the visual tools in an EMDR session encourage what researchers call “bilateral stimulation” in the brain.
According to EMDR research, this bilateral stimulation calls memories more actively to mind. This causes you to essentially relive the experience in a safe environment in order to properly work through it. Activating these memories helps target and address them directly rather than spending weeks talking through one specific experience.
Researchers find that eye movement reprocessing and desensitization therapy works well with trauma victims in particular. People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) find that a few sessions of EMDR helps work through things that might have taken months in regular cognitive behavioral therapy.
Therapists and counselors also use EMDR to treat:
- Addiction and alcoholism
- Eating disorders
- Panic attacks
How Does EMDR Therapy Work?
EMDR therapy breaks treatment down into eight “phases” that take place over the course of about twelve sessions. Each round of treatment targets a specific memory or set of memories and the emotional responses to them. The eight phases are broken out into sections with different goals for each set.
First Phase: History Gathering
You sit with your therapist and he gathers a brief history of your life to get a better idea of what you want to work on. They ask a wide range of questions to learn more about you and how EMDR will fit into the treatment you’ve already had. Together you outline goals for treatment and what you hope to gain.
Second Phase: Preparation for Treatment
Your therapist explains what eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy entails. He prepares you for the potentially overwhelming feelings you will experience during the course of treatment and how to handle these emotions prior to healing them. Outlining and defining a few definite coping skills is often a part of the preparation phase.
Third Phase: Assessment of Memories
You and your therapist work together to determine which specific memory you want to target and work through. Together you may select one or a few different memories. He also learns more about your emotional responses to these memories and assess how to heal your reactions.
Fourth through Seventh Phases: Treatment
The fourth through seventh phases cover the actual treatment portion of EMDR therapy. These sessions challenge you both emotionally and physically as you have to relive the traumatic experiences in order to heal them. Your therapist prepares you for these phases of treatment during the second phase so you aren’t caught entirely off guard.
Eighth Phase: Evaluation of Treatment
The final phase of EMDR therapy gives you the opportunity to reflect on the outcome of your previous sessions. You and your therapist assess your progress and whether treatment was effective or not. If you need additional sessions, your therapist uses this time to start the phases over to target any other troubling experiences and memories.
What Are the Benefits of EMDR?
Multiple small-scale studies showed positive benefits to EMDR therapy. People who work through their traumas using eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy experienced minimal emotional responses to previously traumatizing memories.
EMDR offers an efficient and time-conscious way to treat issues that take months or years to work through with cognitive behavioral therapy. Hawaii Island Recovery staffs therapists who specialize in this type of therapy. If you’re interested in learning more about using this type of therapy, call our admissions office at 877-721-3556 today!