Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy approach designed by Francine Shapiro.
As an information processing psychotherapy, it helps clients resolve problems caused by traumatic experiences.
Research has demonstrated its efficacy in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and new studies have demonstrated its value in the treatment of other disorders as well.
What is EMDR therapy?
EMDR therapy definition explains it is a psychotherapy approach created to help clients battle stress and anxiety stemming from traumatic memories.
According to Dr. Shapiro, the creator of the approach, EMDR therapy:
- Helps ease the access to and processing of traumatic memories
- Relieves a person from affective distress and negative beliefs, particularly traumatic ones.
During the process, the client is urged to recall traumatic experiences in limited amounts while the therapist directs the client’s eye movements.
Shapiro designed this approach confident that overcoming trauma can be done with less time devoted to analysis.
EMDR trauma therapy involves devoting attention to the past, present, and future of the client. Here’s how:
- Past is incorporated through the exploration of the disturbing experiences
- Present through the current situations inducing distress
- Future through the adoption of new coping skills and mindset
The EMDR protocol has eight phases:
- History taking
- Client preparation
- Body scan
- Reevaluation of treatment effect
EMDR therapist typically covers the whole procedure in 12 sessions, but similarly to our physical bodies, our minds need varying amounts of time to heal.
The length can vary depending on the severity and the time that has passed since trauma happened.
If you are wondering, does EMDR trauma therapy work or not, you can be rest assured.
EMDR therapy reviews show that it is effective for disorders caused by experiencing trauma.
A study of combat veterans reported that after 12 sessions, 77% no longer had post-traumatic stress disorder.
Additionally, a single trauma can be processed after 3 EMDR sessions (this was true for 80-90% of the participants).
However, the number of sessions differs on the complexity of the trauma and the client’s history.
How does EMDR therapy work?
Dr. Francine Shapiro started her research in 1987 upon noticing the correlation of eye movement and intensity of unsettling thoughts and emotions.
In Dr. Shapiro’s own experience, she noticed her eyes were moving unwillingly when she had a distressing thought.
Following that observation, she tried voluntarily moving her eyes and noticed a reduction in anxiety.
She went on developing an EMDR treatment and employing it to help PTSD patients. Currently, EMDR is a well-researched and recognized method of treatment.
Why is EMDR effective?
The effectiveness of EMDR treatment comes from establishing new associations between traumatic memories and new more adaptive memories or information.
Recalling negative experiences is thought to be less upsetting when the attention is divided. This is the reason for using various external stimuli simultaneously with the recalling process.
EMDR therapists use various external stimuli like:
- Eye movement
- Audio stimulation
This process, over time, leads to lessening the psychological response and impact of the memories.
EMDR therapy eases access to traumatic memories and allows the healing process to start.
This process resembles the healing of our physical injuries.
When there is an injury, our bodies start the healing process. That is if there isn’t some foreign object blocking it or repeated injury to the wound happening.
An EMDR therapist helps the client activate their natural healing processes and remove the mental blockages.
Uses of EMDR therapy
EMDR therapy has been proven effective and recommended for the treatment of disorders that develop following a traumatic event.
EMDR therapy for PTSD and EMDR for anxiety or phobia caused by traumatic events is an empirically recommended treatment. However, there was no ample evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of EMDR treatment for disorders whose origin can’t be traced back to a past trauma.
Research shows EMDR therapy for anxiety, or phobia is most effective if the disorder followed a distressing event (for example, phobia of dogs or cynophobia due to a dog bite), and less effective for disorders of unknown cause (for example, snake or spider phobia).
EMDR therapy, compared to in vivo exposure, seems to be more practical when it comes to phobias that are limited to certain events or places (like a phobia of thunderstorms or tunnels).
In vivo exposure it may be difficult to include those specific events or places in the office setting. However, EMDR therapy can be combined with in vivo exposure as the client’s homework.
Concerns and limitations of EMDR therapy
EMDR counseling is most effective when it comes to specific trauma-induced disorders like PTSD.
Even though it can be used in other disorders, research to determine its effectiveness is still undergoing. Therefore, its application for disorders that have no certain traumatic cause may not be the best choice of treatment.
- EMDR therapy, like any other psychotherapy, can temporarily increase distress.
- The procedure requires the recollection of traumatic events, and that can cause a disturbance.
- One of the EMDR therapy side effects is the perseveration of dreams and memories after the treatment.
- One of the dangers of EMDR therapy is the increase in the intensity of symptoms after the EMDR session.
This is one of the reasons that loyalty to the treatment is important.
However, the EMDR therapist is a trained professional who will first help the client prepare for the recalling of these events and introduce them in small doses.
If, however, the client experiences a highly emotional reaction during the session, the physician is trained to help the client overcome those sensations.
For many clients, the trauma remains only as a shade of the experience.
Going through the entire protocol, and having a trained professional can make the difference between symptoms decrease and increase.
What to expect from EMDR therapy?
Each person is unique, and the protocol of eight EMDR phases will be slightly adjusted.
EMDR clinician might devote more time to the preparation phase designed to assist the client self-soothe before diving into recalling the trauma.
- The client is being led at a pace that is appropriate for his unique situation.
- Every session includes an evaluation and empowerment of the client to help them handle any thoughts or dreams of trauma until the next session.
- During the session, the therapist might use a variety of external stimuli and will encourage feedback from the client after each.
- Before deciding which stimuli to employ, the therapist will have to know which sensation is the prominent component of the traumatic memory.
- The extinction of the traumatic memory is directly related to the difficulty of maintaining awareness of it when exposed to the stimuli. Hence, the importance of the choice of stimuli to use.
- By the end of the session, the client would feel calmer and able to recall bits of the trauma with a lessened emotional response.
How to prepare for EMDR Therapy?
There are two essential steps in preparing for EMDR therapy.
- Understanding if you are a good candidate for EMDR therapy
- Finding a qualified therapist
Even though rigorous criteria on who could be a candidate for EMDR doesn’t exist, a general guideline to consider is the existence of a traumatic event.
Be that as it may, what one finds traumatic differs and can include various events such as car accidents, childhood trauma, environmental disasters, divorce, sexual assault, etc.
When trying to find EMDR treatment near you:
- Turn to friends and family for recommendations
- Talk to your primary care physician
- Seek help online
Additionally, you may want to understand if the EMDR therapist you found near you is keeping up with the most recent research and methods.
Check the EMDR Institute page for more information on new research and training before diving into this conversation.
Ideally, interview a few clinicians before making the final decision.
When finding out if the clinician is a good fit, you need to inquire about training and qualifications (was their training approved by EMDRIA), experience in working with clients with trauma similar to yours, and their success rate.
Ultimately, evaluate how you feel with them and if you are comfortable proceeding.