Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) is a treatment modality that combines both talk therapy and rapid eye movements or other form of stimulation such as tapping, hand buzzers, and sounds.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy was originally developed in 1987 by a psychologist named Francine Shapiro. There are detailed procedures and protocols used in EMDR that help to access unprocessed memories and emotions, so you can fully process through them.
The basis of this therapy was formed off the AIP (adaptive information processing) model. This model holds the belief that we are all born with processing systems in our brain that help to take in information, make sense of it, and store it. However, when one experiences a traumatic event, this system breaks down, and those memories are not able to be processed fully and get stored in an unprocessed form in your brain. Because of this, symptoms of PTSD can occur. These can include flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance, negative world or self-views, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response, and anger. EMDR helps a person to process these memories, with new thoughts and emotions attached to that memory, and store them more adaptively in their brain, thus decreasing or eliminating PTSD symptoms.
EMDR therapy will not get rid of any traumatic or upsetting memories. However, it works to process the memories fully including the emotions attached to the memory. Therefore, reducing the activation around the memory so it is no longer as triggering, and decrease/eliminating PTSD symptoms.
Can you do this therapy virtually?
EMDR can be done virtually. In fact, I have had many clients report that they feel it was helpful to be in their own space while doing this form of trauma therapy. Virtual EMDR therapy can be just as effective as doing EMDR in office.
EMDR and trauma:
Yes, it is widely used to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other trauma related disorders. Additionally, EMDR can be used for complex trauma or single trauma. EMDR calls these Different trauma Big T Trauma’s and little T Trauma’s.
Can EMDR help with other things besides trauma?
EMDR may be used to help with other symptoms such as panic attacks, anxiety, addictions, phobias, grief or traumatic grief, depression, or other adverse life events such as divorce.
What does an EMDR session look like?
There are 8 total structured phases of EMDR.
During a EMDR session a therapist will guide you through each of these eight phases:
History and treatment planning: During phase one the therapist will gather your history and start treatment planning with you. This sometimes will focus mostly on the trauma history.
Preparation: This phase consists of the therapist explaining how EMDR works and practicing resourcing exercises. Also, the therapist will address any questions you may have.
Assessment Phase: A therapist will have you activate the memory that you are targeting. This includes the memory, the feelings, body sensations, negative self-beliefs, positive cognitions, and a SUDS (subjective units of distress scale 0-10).
Desensitization: The therapist will have you use rapid eye movements, tapping, or bilateral sound, while focusing on the memory until it is no longer distressing and the SUDS is less than 1.
Instillation: A therapist will help you install new thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about the original memory.
Body Scan: You and your therapist will do a body scan while thinking of the original memory with the new thoughts that are installed in phase five. If there is still a negative physical reaction, you will engage in further eye movements. If there is not a negative physical reactions, you will implement a future template if appropriate.
Closure: This will be used for when a memory is not fully processed in session. You should never leave a session EMDR or other therapy feeling like you are in high distress.
Reevaluation Phase: At each new session you and your therapist will discuss any new memories, feelings, thoughts, dreams, etc. about the memories from prior sessions to ensure your distress has remained low in-between sessions.
Blog Disclaimer – These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.
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