If you experience a traumatic event or struggle with anxiety, you might exist in a highly aroused state. Symptoms you experience can be difficult to manage and sometimes even debilitating. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, EMDR is a scientifically based therapeutic technique. EMDR helps you reprocess trauma and heal the associated symptoms.

What Is EMDR

EMDR is a therapeutic procedure. It helps you desensitize and reprocess traumatic or disturbing life events and psychological distress without the need to go into great detail about the trauma. EMDR was developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro in 1987. EMDR helps those experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You can easily be triggered if you experienced a trauma that you have not effectively processed. This can happen by recalling the memory or being in a situation that reminds you of the trauma. It can cause you to relive the traumatic experience as if it is currently happening, even though it isn’t.

In EMDR, the reprocessing of the event occurs through bilateral stimulation while recalling memories related to the traumatic event. The bilateral stimulation engages both the right (emotional) side of the brain, and the left (logical) side of the brain. This helps memories process more fully. EMDR mimics REM sleep where dreaming and processing of emotions occurs. Bilateral stimulation occurs through eye movements by following lights or the therapists fingers as they move from side to side. You can also listen to bilateral tones, or use alternating tactile stimulation. The memory remains, but the emotional reaction and related symptoms attached to the event significantly decrease through EMDR. This is because EMDR taps into the brain’s natural healing ability.

What Can EMDR Be Used To Treat

Although no one knows exactly how EMDR works, there are numerous studies outlining its efficacy. EMDR is effective with those who suffer symptoms related to PTSD. PTSD occurs when you experience a traumatic event, such as a bad accident, and you have disturbing symptoms that linger beyond 6 months. These symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, avoiding situations that remind you of the traumatic event, negative changes in beliefs or feelings, and hyperarousal. EMDR treats symptoms of complex PTSD related to ongoing exposure to trauma as experienced by prisoners of war, and child abuse survivors. EMDR effectively treats generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, grief, chronic pain, addiction, phobias, and performance anxiety. It successfully helps athletes enhance their performance, especially when they have suffered sports related injuries.

What Are The Side Effects Of EMDR

There are some side effects that commonly occur with EMDR therapy. Sometimes, as you process a negative experience, unpleasant memories related to, or even unrelated to the event that were either buried or forgotten can come up. You might experience difficult emotions during and after a session. This can include anger and sadness and intense nightmares as well. It may feel as though things get worse before getting better.

However, there are positive side effects that commonly occur as well. Forgotten positive memories can be brought to the surface. It’s also possible to experience very intense pleasant memories and dreams where all of your senses are heightened. A feeling of relief, relaxation, or euphoria might occur following an EMDR session. Although some people experience exhaustion or a lightheaded feeling, many report falling asleep easily and experiencing vivid dreams.

What Are The 8 Phases Of EMDR

EMDR can significantly reduce PTSD related to a single traumatic incident in three to six sessions. Complex PTSD usually takes longer. The eight phases of EMDR include history taking, client preparation, assessment, desensitization, installation, body scan, closure, and reevaluation.

Phases 1 through 3

  • History taking includes assessing a client’s readiness for EMDR and the development of a treatment plan. Writing down the presenting problem and any related symptoms occurs. The client and therapist collaborate and identify possible targets to process with EMDR.
  • In the client preparation phase, explaining the theory and process of EMDR takes place. Teaching and practicing of Relaxation techniques used during and between sessions occurs.
  • The assessment phase requires the client to identify an image representing the target event. The therapist helps the client explore any negative beliefs, body sensations, or emotions related to the event. Next, the client identifies a positive belief to replace the negative one.

Phases 4 through 8

  • During desensitization, the client focuses on the image that represents the target event along with the negative belief. The client focuses on this and bilateral stimulation, such as listening to tones as it alternates from one ear to the other, occurs. This continues until a disturbance no longer connects to the memory.
  • In the installation phase, the identified positive belief replaces the negative belief. The client focuses on the image representing the target event along with the positive belief. Bilateral stimulation occurs simultaneously.
  • The client performs a body scan to check for any tension in the body associated with the distressing memory. If tension remains, reprocessing may need to occur. If tension is absent, the therapist will proceed to the next phase.
  • With the closure phase, the client keeps a journal of anything that comes up between sessions. The client practices the relaxation skills that they learned between sessions.
  • The reevaluation phase occurs at the start of every new session. Any new memories, experiences, or thoughts that occur are discussed. Reprocessing of any new disturbances occurs.

EMDR can help you engage both sides of your brain so you can effectively process trauma. If you have experienced trauma or struggle with anxiety or addiction, a therapist trained in EMDR can help you reprocess the experience and decrease related negative symptoms. EMDR can be a powerful tool to use on your healing journey.

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