Everything You Need to Know About EMDR Therapy

Like many other mental health clinics, we offer a wide variety of treatment options at Bespoke Treatment. This includes a number of psychotherapies, such as CBT and ACT, as well as EMDR. While most people are familiar with more traditional talk therapies, many of our patients were previously unaware that EMDR is a therapy option for them. So, what is EMDR therapy and how does it work?

What is EMDR?

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a unique type of psychotherapy that is used to treat a variety of mental health conditions. Originally designed to relieve stress related to traumatic memories, EMDR facilitates the brain’s natural mechanism of processing and storing distressing memories and adverse life experience. It is often used to treat chronic and acute cases of PTSD, but can also be helpful for any individual dealing with traumatic memories. EMDR can be used to treat certain cases of depression, anxiety, OCD, and more.

In the psychological field, scientists and clinicians have assumed that traumatic events and severe emotional pain take a long time to heal. Most people suffering from PTSD need many years of therapy and emotional healing to come to terms with their traumatic experience. Research involving EMDR therapy has shown us that the brain is capable of healing from psychological trauma just as the body is capable of healing from physical trauma.

When a repeated injury or foreign object disrupts the body’s physical healing process, the wound can fester. A similar phenomenon occurs with emotional trauma. When there is a disruption in the brain’s information processing system, emotional healing pauses, and the traumatic memories can cause severe distress until proper healing resumes. EMDR therapy helps to remove any imbalances in memory processing caused by disturbing events or thoughts to allow the brain to resume its natural healing process.

Is EMDR Effective?

A large collection of clinical trials have shown that EMDR is effective in treating PTSD in a variety of patients. Some studies show that 85-90% of single-trauma patients show full remission after three 90-minute EMDR sessions. Other studies show that 77% of multiple-trauma victims and combat veterans show remission of PTSD after 6-12 EMDR sessions.

Due to the expansive body of research on this form of therapy, the APA, Department of Defense, and WHO have recognized EMDR therapy as an effective form of treatment for disturbing experiences and trauma. As EMDR therapy has been shown to be effective in healing traumatic memories, the therapy is also widely used to help people process other kinds of distressing emotions and thoughts, such as feelings of powerlessness, low self-esteem, or anxieties. In the last 25 years, millions of individuals have been successfully treated with EMDR therapy.

How Does EMDR Therapy Work?

EMDR, unlike other forms of psychotherapy, does not necessarily involve discussion of traumatic memories or distressing thoughts with the therapist. The eight-phase treatment involves specific eye movements and focusing attention on the past, present, and future, as guided by a clinician. The eight phases of EMDR are as follows:

1.In the first phase, the therapist develops a treatment plan with the patient, identifying potential targets and goals and assessing the patient’s readiness. Initial EMDR therapy may be directed to childhood events rather than adult onset stressors, depending on the individual. The length of treatment determined will depend on the age of PTSD onset or number of traumas. Some patients with single-event adult-onset trauma can be treated successfully in 5 hours.

2. In the second phase, the therapist will confirm that the patient has multiple different ways of handling emotional distress. This may involve teaching the patient various stress reduction and imagery techniques that they can use between and during sessions. One of the goals of EMDR therapy is to induce effective and rapid change while maintaining equilibrium throughout the treatment.

3. In the third phase, a target memory is identified. The patient will identify a vivid visual image related to the traumatic or disturbing memory, a negative belief about the self, and any related emotions and body sensations. The patient will also identify a positive belief, and will rate the intensity of the positive and negative beliefs and emotions.

4-6. In the fourth through sixth phase, bilateral stimulation is used to help the patient process the target memory. The patient is instructed to focus on the negative image, thought, and sensations while engaging in sets of bilateral stimulation. Bilateral stimulation involves various stimuli applied to both sides of the body; stimuli can include eye movements, tones, or physical taps. The client is instructed to simply notice whatever stimuli spontaneously occurs. After bilateral stimulation, the patient is instructed to let their mind go blank and notice any image, feeling, thought, or sensation that comes to mind. This process repeats until the patient reports no further distress related to the target memory. They are then instructed to think of the chosen positive belief, and may adjust the positive belief if necessary. If the patient has difficulty progressing or becomes distressed, the therapist follows the outlined protocol to help them get back on track.

7. The seventh phase is the closure phase, in which the patient is asked to keep a log during the week, documenting any related thoughts or emotions that arise. The log acts as a reminder of self-calming activities that were mastered in phase 2. This is the final phase of each EMDR session.

8. The last phase is conducted at the start of the next session, and involves examining the progress the patient has made. A full EMDR treatment course involves processing all related historical events and memories, current incidents that cause distress, and developing skills for processing future events.

If you are considering EMDR therapy or want to know if it is a suitable option for you, reach out to us at Bespoke Treatment for a free consultation. We work with each patient to develop an individualized treatment plan that assesses your unique goals and needs.

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