Back in 1989, psychologist Francine Shapiro developed the Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) technique. This somewhat new treatment option has gained in popularity over the last 20 years for the treatment of addiction issues and psychological issues related to stress and trauma.
Within the medical profession, EMDR remains a controversial treatment method. However, the Psychiatric community holds on to this treatment option because it is starting to show a solid level of effectiveness when treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How Does EMDR Work?
Most EMDR Therapy sessions will last 60 to 90 minutes in duration. Patients might need to participate in scheduled appointments for several weeks before they begin to experience complete benefits.
While asking a patient to remember and visualize a painful event or trauma, the therapist will ask the patient to follow the therapist’s fingers as they move them about quickly before the patient’s eyes. Sometimes, an object or tapping sound can be used instead of finger movements. The goal is to get the patient’s eyes moving about quickly.
As the patient brings their painful event or trauma into their mind, the therapist will ask them to also try to remember the emotions and any body sensations that might have been part of the experience. By the way, the patient does not have to verbalize their negative experience to their therapist. They only need to conjure it up in their mind.
While continuing the finger movements, the therapist will then ask the patient to shift gears and start visualizing a pleasant experience or destination. The end goal of the EMDR process is to keep weakening the impact of the negative experience until it diminishes or becomes more manageable through other coping options.
The 8 Phases of EMDR Therapy
It’s worth noting that the EMDR process is somewhat complicated. Good therapeutic methods usually are complicated. When the process works, patients get that much-needed relief from inappropriate emotions, beliefs, and body sensations that are tied to their negative experience or trauma.
To better understand the EMDR process, we want to break it down into eight phases.
1. History and Evidence Gathering
This is the phase where the path to self-discovery begins. The therapist will work with the patient to start gathering information related to the patient’s history and current circumstances as it relates to the relevant traumatic issue or issues. While going through the information gathering process, the patient also gets a chance to connect with their therapist and learn a bit about the actual EMDR process.
There is a good chance the patient will have several traumatic events of concern. The therapist would typically ask the patient to rate the events to make sure therapy is targeting the most relevant issues. At the end of this phase, the goals of treatment will be set.
2. Treatment Planning
Going through the EMDR process requires commitment and readiness. During phase two, the therapist and patient will discuss and agree upon plans for the treatment process. The therapist will also work with the patient to make sure they have the necessary coping skills to continue on through the EMDR process until the end. Some of the techniques the therapist will teach the patient include grounding skills, stress reduction skills, and state change skills. At the end of this phase, the patient should have a general idea about what they are about to experience.
3. Assessing and Determining Target Trauma
This is the phase where the actual trauma or negative event will come to the forefront. The therapist will ask the patient to start visualizing and experiencing relevant sensations related to the event. The therapist will ask the patient to identify both a positive and negative statement or emotion to describe how they feel about the event. The patient will be asked to rate the positive statement or emotion using the 1-to-7 Validity of Cognition (VoC) scale and the negative statement or emotion using the Subjective Units of Disturbance (SUD) scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being worst.
After setting the positive and negative baseline ratings, the goal of EMDR is to increase the VoC rating while decreasing the SUD rating.
This is the phase where the patient begins dealing with their memories. As they process all the memories and associated sensations, the memory disturbance process will begin to resolve issues. As issues get resolved, the patient will begin to incrementally move closer to final trauma resolution as the SUD scale moves closer to zero (0).
By the time they reach this stage, the client has processed the trauma to some level of resolution. It should leave them feeling somewhat empowered and more in control of their feelings and emotions. Their thought processes are now falling on the positive side of the associated rating scale, hopefully to the point where the SUD rating sits at zero (0) and the VoC sits at seven (7).
6. Body Scan
After scoring out at 7 on the VoC, the therapist will then ask the patient to bring back the target negative event or trauma for reevaluation. The reevaluation process is called a body scan. After bringing back the negative event or trauma, the therapist will look to confirm that the patient is no longer feeling negative emotional or body stress related to the event or trauma. Until the client is able to report no residual negativity, the process will have to be repeated.
What happens during the closure phase will depend on where every individual session ends. If the client has completed the EMDR process by successfully resolving the negativity, the therapist will be able to yo end the session. If the negativity has not been fully resolved, the therapist will end the session with self-calming exercises. This is intended to leave the patient feeling somewhat in control until they return to continue working to a final resolution.
The reevaluation phase actually occurs during the next appointment. This is the time and place where the therapist will evaluate the effectiveness of the last treatment session to see where the patient sits. They will reevaluate disturbance levels to see if the positive feelings remain in control. If the previous EMDR therapy session was incomplete, the next session will pick up at stage 4.
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EMDR therapy is a form of psychotherapy that was designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. It was developed by Francine Shapiro in 1988, and it has proven to be effective in treating conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety.
In recent years, EMDR Therapy has been gaining recognition among both patients and doctors. It addresses both the emotional and mental aspects of anxiety in a natural therapeutic way.