EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing)
Reprocess. Repair. Release.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a breakthrough, integrative psychotherapy proven to effectively treat survivors of psychological trauma and many types of emotional distress. It is known as the "gold standard" for trauma treatment.
EMDR was originally used to treat combat veterans in the 1970s, but it can address all types of trauma. EMDR works for various other mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.
How Does EMDR Work?
EMDR enables a natural healing process in your brain. Through bilateral stimulation, the brain's information-processing system becomes activated. It assists in desensitizing targeted disturbing memories so that patients can learn to integrate them into a more adaptive way of living.
In other words, EMDR positively impacts our brain functioning, allowing for upsetting events to be remembered without the associated distress and disturbing symptoms. Think of it as "rewiring" your brain. We can often talk through life's hardships with a therapist, but EMDR also utilizes brain science to help achieve those goals.
Bilateral Stimulation is the Key
Bilateral stimulation involves a specific way of moving your eyes from left to right. It might sound like it wouldn't do much, but it mimics a skill our brain uses every night—REM sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is also where dreaming happens.
Scientific evidence shows that the human brain processes and consolidates memories during this sleep phase. REM sleep helps the brain connect adaptive information with maladaptive (trauma) information. Following an object with just your eyes back and forth can replicate some REM sleep components.
Methods of Bilateral Stimulation
Usually, your therapist will hold up their fingers and move them back and forth, but some mental health professionals use lights. You're on the right track as long as your eyes move from left to right.
Other methods of bilateral stimulation for EMDR can be tapping hands, arms, or legs, alternating each side of your body. Some therapists will use gentle tones, with speakers by each ear. You can build stronger connections between your brain hemispheres by stimulating the left and right sides. These connections create a healthier environment for memory processing.
Your brain is amazing and wants to heal. Once it sees a path to go from maladaptive to adaptive, it takes it. New neurological connections can form with the right amount of time and patience.
Turning Traumatic Memories into “Normal” Memories
These new and stronger neural connections help turn a traumatic experience into a neutral memory.
Usually, our memories and experiences get stored without issue. Like a folder going into a filing cabinet, it's in the right spot and we can go back and find it when we need to.
However, traumatic memories don't get stored correctly. Gaps and false memories are common, as well as intense anxiety when recalling the event. These memories are like loose papers sitting on top of the filing cabinet. They have nowhere to go, and they cause stress.
EMDR operates under the Adaptive Information Processing Model, also called the AIP Model. This model states that traumatic memories are "stuck" and not processed and stored. However, EMDR changes our perception of traumatic memory, finally processing it correctly.
A fully-processed targeted memory in EMDR will no longer produce nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, negative self-concept, or emotional distress when recalled. The patient will become desensitized to it.
What Does a Typical EMDR Session Look Like?
During your first couple of sessions with your therapist, you will work together to understand the issues or situations that are most troubling to you. These may include current upsetting events or ones that stem from the past.
Examples of sample target memories for EMDR might be:
A past or recent traumatic event
Once we have pinpointed potential targets for EMDR treatment, we can begin processing using bilateral stimulation.
You select the bilateral stimulation method you feel most comfortable with before processing begins. Then, in each EMDR session, an Inner Balance therapist will guide you through processing material connected to the original target. You are in complete control of each EMDR session.
Phases of EMDR
Typically, each EMDR will last approximately 60-90 minutes, but it varies for each individual. Every session, your therapist will walk you through the phases of EMDR therapy, though not every stage is necessary for each session.
This phase will be more of a consultation session. You and your therapist discuss what brought you to them. Eventually, you'll narrow down which traumatic memories you'll target and which method of bilateral stimulation makes you most comfortable.
Because you'll intentionally be reliving a painful experience, you'll want some calming techniques in your back pocket. Your therapist will guide you through what you may experience and ways to return to your baseline without cutting the therapy session short. You'll also discuss a preferred reaction, emotion, or thought that you want to replace your initial response.
This phase is when you identify which memory you'll target in that session and how it affects you. What emotions are you feeling? Is anything happening to you physically when you think about it? What negative thoughts does it create?
This stage is generally considered the first "treatment phase," where you begin using bilateral stimulation and reworking your memories.
You'll focus on the target memory and engage in bilateral stimulation until your emotional distress dissipates. When that happens, new feelings or thoughts regarding the target may emerge. Your therapist will encourage you to stay mindful by taking note of these new feelings and thoughts.
Once you become desensitized to the target, you can replace the previous negative emotions with a desired reaction using bilateral stimulation. This reaction is usually a positive self-belief, and you'll perform this phase until the target and that chosen belief are completely tied together.
Once you associate the desired belief with the target event, you'll keep them in your mind while you do a mindful body scan. You can repeat the desensitization and installation phases if any lingering physical sensations or adverse reactions are present.
In this phase, your therapist will again talk about calming techniques and perhaps implement them as you've just experienced a lot of intense emotions. Sometimes, the reprocessing isn't fully complete when the therapist moves to this stage.
Now it's time to reassess your progress and goals. Depending on how the session progressed, your therapist might recommend more or fewer sessions, implement other therapies, or assign you homework and reflection for the next session.
How Many Sessions Will I Need?
The number of sessions needed for total healing depends on the patient and what they want to treat. For many, it could take as few as four sessions or as many as 12. You and your therapist determine the number of sessions.
A single counseling session can't solve everything. Remember that you're creating new neurological pathways and connections in your brain. Athletes need time and dedication to train new muscles and movements; your brain needs the same.
Can You Do EMDR Online?
Yes, absolutely! We now have ways to use EMDR online that are just as effective as in-person treatment. Some people have found online EMDR to be more helpful and less stressful than going into an office.
Can EMDR Still Help Even If I Do Not Remember Everything?
Yes! You do not have to remember every detail for EMDR to be effective. Many people come to EMDR therapy with blank or missing time in their memories. We can still help you to heal from your past and feel better.
I Am Interested, But I Don't Have PTSD or a History of Trauma…
The American Psychiatric Association, International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, and U.S. Department of Defenses recognize EMDR as an effective treatment of PTSD. However, its also proven to treat the following:
Whether you are curious about EMDR or just looking to talk to someone who will help you feel better, call us today. Our team of caring and dedicated therapists and counselors can help get you started on the path to wellness.