Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an evidence-based trauma treatment. EMDR has been shown to provide results in less time than other forms of trauma therapy. Many mental health and drug and alcohol inpatient treatment centers have incorporated EMDR in their programs due to the prevalence of traumatic experiences in those with mental health and substance use disorders (SUDs).

What Happens During EMDR?

During EMDR, you will talk to a therapist about your trauma while they use bilateral stimulation to keep you calm throughout your sessions. Bilateral stimulation involves any repetitive physical sensations that alternate from the left to the right side of the body. Most EMDR therapists will use eye movements, which could be as simple as waving a pen from left to right for your eyes to follow during your sessions. They might also use lights, or other physical sensations, like auditory stimulation or touch. 

Your therapist will also discuss alternative ways to remain calm, aside from the bilateral stimulation. They might teach you breathing exercises and mindfulness techniques before beginning each session. These techniques will help you as you retell your trauma story and the feelings associated with your trauma.

Before you begin your EMDR session, you will talk about how you feel about your trauma and your level of distress. Following each session, you will rate how you feel now to compare both before and after each session. These comparisons will help you and your therapist track your progress.

Patient meeting with a therapist
What Is EMDR and How Can It Help My Recovery?

EMDR therapy is an evidence-based treatment method for treating trauma and stress-related disorders. For more information, call (866) 390-5070 today.

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How Does EMDR Work?

EMDR works by keeping you calm while you recall your trauma and associated negative feelings. When you experience trauma, your central nervous system becomes stuck in survival mode. You become hypervigilant, anticipate the next potential threat, or experience flashbacks when reminded of your trauma. These feelings harm your overall physical and mental well-being, making it difficult for you to relax and feel at ease.

When you start EMDR, you might have high levels of distress during your sessions as you relive your trauma experience. As you continue telling your story with the external stimulation keeping you calm, your mind starts to shift in how you respond to your trauma. Instead of feeling stuck in a state of fear while talking about trauma, your body begins to relax more and more during each session. The bilateral stimulation of repetitive eye movements desensitizes your heightened emotional responses and allows you to reprocess your thoughts and feelings about the trauma.

EMDR helps you change your response to what has happened to you. Essentially, EMDR helps heal the deep wounds of trauma like physical therapy. You are changing how your wounded central nervous system responds to trauma with practice and new coping mechanisms that help you remain calm.

The 8 Phases of EMDR Therapy

EMDR therapy uses phases during treatment sessions. The eight phases of EMDR therapy are:

#1. History-taking: You and your therapist begin by discussing your current issues and symptoms. You might not dive deeply into your trauma at this stage but could let your therapist know some of the details.

#2. Preparation: Your therapist will teach you calming techniques and introduce you to the bilateral stimulation used during your sessions. These calming techniques can be used during and between sessions to help you manage your symptoms.

#3. Assessment: You and your therapist will discuss your level of distress associated with the targeted trauma memories. These will be the focus of your sessions, and the assessments will help determine your treatment progress.

#4. Desensitization: As you talk about your trauma memories, your therapist uses bilateral stimulation to keep you calm. The goal of EMDR is to become desensitized to your trauma to heal your central nervous system and your heightened emotional responses.

#5. Installation: When you deal with trauma, you often develop negative beliefs about yourself, other people, and the world around you. Your therapist will help you instill positive beliefs when you become desensitized to the feelings associated with trauma.

#6. Body scan: You will focus on any remaining physical symptoms related to trauma to treat these lingering symptoms.

#7. Closure: After each session, you will close the session out with a check-in about your stability before you leave and discuss what to look for between sessions.

#8. Re-assessment: Each session begins with a check-in regarding feelings and symptoms experienced between sessions. These re-assessments help to evaluate continued progress throughout your treatment.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy developed in the late 1980s by California psychologist Francine Shapiro.

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Is EMDR Effective at Healing Trauma?

According to The Permanente Journal, “Seven of 10 studies reported EMDR therapy to be more rapid and/or more effective than trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy.” Patients feel relief from a variety of symptoms related to trauma after completing EMDR therapy. Instead of focusing solely on your memories and recall of the trauma, EMDR involves the physical component of calming stimulation to rewire how your brain and central nervous system respond to trauma.

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