Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (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 EMDR therapy, the patient is asked to recall distressing images related to their past trauma. The therapist then directs the patient to some kind of bilateral stimulation such as side-to-side eye movement, hand tapping, or another external stimulus that can act as a distraction from the disturbing imagery.
The theory behind EMDR is that the patient begins to associate their past trauma with this new stimulus, thereby becoming desensitized to the distressing imagery. National and International organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the International Study for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have recognized EMDR as an effective treatment when it is administered by a licensed and trained professional.
How EMDR Differs from Other Types of Therapy
The biggest difference between EMDR and other types of psychotherapy is that EMDR often doesn’t require the patient to discuss distressing issues in great detail. Patients are also not required to complete “homework” in between EMDR sessions, but it is recommended to reduce recovery time. EMDR is designed to address unprocessed traumatic memories in the brain, things that might be difficult to discuss in a more traditional therapy setting.
How EMDR Works
EMDR is meant to focus on changing the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors associated with a distressing issue and allow the brain to begin its natural healing process. This healing process has been compared to how the body might recover from a physical cut. If someone cuts their hand, the skin will naturally begin to heal and close the wound as long as there is nothing preventing that from happening. If there is something that prevents the wound from healing such as a foreign object or a repeated injury, the would will become infected and fail to heal properly. The brain is said to work in much the same way in regards to trauma. EMDR sessions aim to remove the power that certain distressing images carry so that the brain can heal much like a physical wound after it’s been treated.
EMDR also has the advantage of requiring fewer sessions to be effective. While conventional wisdom will have you believe that it can take a patient years to recover from a traumatic event with other forms of therapy, some studies have shown that single-trauma victims can recover in as few as three 90-minute EMDR sessions. Other studies have shown that EMDR can be used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder in combat veterans after approximately 12 sessions, and even those who haven’t experienced serious trauma yet live with depression and low self-esteem may benefit from regular EMDR sessions.
Working with a Licensed EMDR Therapist
As effective as EMDR sessions can be, it’s important to note that no form of therapy will be effective for everybody. The human brain is very complex, and what could be an effective treatment option for one patient might not work at all for someone else. EMDR is no different and should only be administered by a licensed therapist who has been trained in this form of psychotherapy. Some patients have regarded EMDR as a kind of “do-it-yourself” therapy once they get the basic idea of what it entails, but while patients can engage in EMDR-related exercises at home to a degree, attempting this form of therapy can be harmful. Only attempt EMDR under proper supervision under the advice of a trained mental health clinician.
Although there is still controversy about its effectiveness, EMDR therapy has been shown to help millions of people since its inception in 1988. Those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other serious anxiety disorders have benefitted from EMDR sessions, as have those struggling with depression and low self-esteem. If you are living with these or any other issues related to trauma, depression, or anxiety, speak to your therapist to find out if EMDR could be right for you. There may be a licensed professional near you who can administer this type of treatment.
Getting Started With EMDR Therapy
Call to see if EMDR Therapy is the right therapy for you, or your loved ones, situation: