What Is EMDR?
EMDR is a therapeutic process that quite literally allows you to address, arrange, and refile traumatic memories by harnessing the power of your own brain.
This process helps you to put closure on the trauma that you may have been coping with for a very long time. As suggested by the name, part of knowing what to expect from EMDR therapy revolves around the theme of processing.
As part of the procedure, you participate in sessions in which you move your eyes back and forth while under therapeutic treatment. To give you a brief history, it was Dr. Francine Shapiro, a psychologist, who pioneered the procedure in 1987 and published the first scientific article about it in 1989.
How Does the Brain Cope with Trauma?
The human brain is incredibly complex and we are still trying to understand just how it works. However, we do know that when it comes to trauma, an image or memory associated with that trauma can cause distress.
This is true even if you experience a sound or smell that reminds you of the trauma. The reason this occurs is that your brain can become stuck in the past, per se. It believes that you remain in danger, even though it can be years or decades since the trauma occurred. Thus, you are always on guard or on edge.
Using the rapid eye movement in conjunction with therapy, it’s possible to no longer feel you are in danger. Your brain can then relax, freeing you from the pressure of trauma-related stress and anxiety.
What Can You Expect from EMDR Therapy?
EMDR treatment can be broken down into eight steps.
The first step involves you and your therapist getting to know each other for the first one or two sessions. During this time your therapist will gather your patient history and explain the treatment process. This does not require you to go into detail about your trauma. Instead, you just have to give a general idea so they know where to start.
The next step is the preparation phase. In this phase, your therapist teaches you relaxation techniques that you can use if you get agitated or stressed during treatment.
During the assessment phase, your therapist works with you to identify the different characteristics of the trauma and what happens. Characteristics include negative beliefs and emotions, as well as physical symptoms that you experience.
The next phase is desensitization. This is where eye movements occur. You perform the eye movements while focusing on memory or “target” with the therapist. Over time, this allows you to feel less stressed when considering the memory. Once the memory has been resolved, you move on to the next memory until you have resolved the trauma.
In the installation phase, you are implementing new thoughts associated with the trauma. For example, you replace feeling distraught with feeling calm.
This is the body scan phase. In this phase, you identify any parts of your body where you experience sensations or tension associated with the trauma. This is done until you no longer feel the body tension or sensations when thinking of the traumatic memory.
The seventh phase is the closure phase, which actually occurs after each EMDR session. The idea is to help you feel better at the end of the session than you were at the start of each session.
Finally, there is the reevaluation phase. This actually occurs at the beginning of every EMDR session. Your therapist checks to see if the results from the last session are still present. Also, they identify any new traumatic memories to focus on.
Does EMDR Actually Work?
In one review of 24 research studies on EMDR therapy, the results showed that participants had less distress associated with traumatic memories. In another study of 16 participants, 68% saw a complete resolution of their symptoms. They also reported fewer issues a year after their treatment, as compared to a control group.
EMDR offers the opportunity for you to find a resolution to your trauma. By following the 8-step process with a therapist who is trained in the procedure, you no longer have to feel that you’re in danger. The trauma can become just a memory without the burden of negative emotions.