Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy is an evidence-based therapy model that is used to treat trauma and to promote the brain’s natural capacity to heal itself in response to adverse experiences. The aim of EMDR is to diminish the negative feelings tied to traumatic and distressing experiences. Treatment includes the use of bilateral eye movements to promote the reprocessing of traumatic experiences.
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How Does EMDR Therapy Work?
During a traumatic or stressful experience, the brain processes information differently than it does during everyday life. The information processed during a traumatic experience can feel stuck or frozen in the brain in unhelpful ways and can negatively affect how you feel about yourself and how you experience the world around you.
EMDR treatment focuses on targeting the negative beliefs and emotions that result from trauma and replacing them with new beliefs and inner resources that allow you to live a more satisfying life.
What To Expect During EMDR Therapy
EMDR treatment involves an 8-stage process that your therapist will guide you through:
Phase 1: History Taking
Before beginning EMDR, your therapist will get to know more about your experiences and symptoms. This step is for you to share about events in your past that may be affecting your current mindset.
Phase 2: Preparation
This stage is about ensuring your readiness for EMDR. Even though EMDR therapy is completely safe, it can be problematic for individuals who commonly experience dissociation. As a safeguard, your therapist will work with you to create your own “calm place” to concentrate on if you feel distressed.
Phase 3: Assessment
It’s now time to choose a target to be reprocessed during your next few sessions. In doing so, you’ll need to identify a vivid image related to the memory, a negative cognition about yourself associated with it, and emotions and bodily sensations that accompany both. Your therapist will then have you challenge that negative cognition with a cognitive one. They will have you rate how true your positive cognition feels and how much distress the target memory causes you on a scale from 1-10.
Phase 4: Desensitization
This is where Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing comes into play. When you feel ready, your therapist will guide you to process your negative feelings and memories using bilateral eye movements to facilitate the brain’s healing process. This will help to ground you and take more directed focus on the thoughts, feelings, and images associated with your target. Every minute or so, your therapist will check in on what you’ve noticed and ask you to rate how much discomfort you’re now feeling. When you no longer report distress related to your targeted memory, you move onto the next step.
Phase 5: Installation
Next, your attention will be brought back to the positive cognition you identified earlier. Your therapist will recheck how true this belief now feels. The goal is to get this belief to feel like it’s 100 percent true.
Phase 6: Body scan
You will now be asked to check your body for any areas of tension in your body caused by the target memory. Are your teeth clenched? Is your chest tight? Any uncomfortable physical sensations will be reprocessed using the same procedure as before until you can think of the target memory without feeling any tension.
Phase 7: Closure
At the end of every session, your therapist will make sure that you are leaving feeling more relaxed than when you arrived. If you are feeling agitated, they will lead you through self-calming techniques until you regain your sense of control.
Phase 8: Reevaluation
At the beginning of each subsequent session, your therapist will ask you questions to ensure your positive beliefs have been maintained. This will also help them to identify any new problem areas that may need to be targeted.
EMDR is considered a success once you are able to bring up memories of trauma without feeling the distress that brought you to therapy. Your therapist will also provide you with the techniques and skills you need going forward to deal with upsetting feelings.
Who Is EMDR Therapy Useful For?
EMDR’s focus on targeting negative self-beliefs and emotions lends to its effectiveness at treating:
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