Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, more widely known as EMDR, is a type of therapy that is used to treat PTSD. EMDR is proven to reduce the negative impact that past experiences may be having on one’s present. Because of its effectiveness reducing trauma symptoms, EMDR is the most used and researched treatment for PTSD. Additionally, EMDR is used to treat anxiety, guilt, anger, depression, panic, and sleep disturbance, and to improve self-esteem.
How does it work?
Trauma can result from a series of hurtful childhood messages or a single horrific event like rape or loss. When trauma occurs, traumatic memories are not properly stored in the brain because they overwhelm our capacity to cope. As a result, distressing memories become “stuck”, and are relived whenever something triggers or reminds us of the trauma.
EMDR uses bilateral stimulation such as eye movements or tapping to remove any emotional disturbance connected to a past event. EMDR seems to unlock the mind’s natural healing process in order to allow negative experiences to be reprocessed so that they no longer cause distress. When used appropriately it can shorten the overall length of time in therapy significantly.
What happens in session?
EMDR sessions are 60-90 minutes long. Prior to starting EMDR your therapist will likely get brief information on the memory you want to neutralize and the negative beliefs connected to it, while proving emotional safety and containment.
Your therapist will then ask you to bring up the memory while providing bilateral stimulation using eye movements or tapping. Bilateral stimulation, which occurs naturally during REM sleep, is what allows memories to be reprocessed. The therapist will ask you to notice what comes up for you during each eye movement or series of tapping. During this time you will likely notice images, emotions, sensations and/or thoughts that are connected to the memory that’s being processed.
Sometimes unpleasant emotions or sensations will come up as they relate to the memory. These generally pass within a few minutes as the images, emotions, sensations, and/or thoughts you experience quickly lose their charge and fade into the past. Once the memory is no longer distressing, your therapist will ask you to bring up positive self-statements to replace unhealthy beliefs connected to the memory with more adaptive ones.
What can I expect from EMDR?
You can expect to feel more at ease and at peace with your past after completing EMDR. You can also expect long-term reduction in anxiety or PTSD symptoms. EMDR allows you to face your fears in a safe way, so that you no longer feel controlled by them. It allows you to heal from emotional pain so that you can better enjoy the present and no worry about what lies ahead.