AM Healthcare

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)


Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing can be a beneficial tool for people attempting to overcome trauma or abuse. While sessions can be challenging, as people have to relive past traumatic experiences, the results are often faster than other forms of psychotherapy and highly effective.

What is EMDR Therapy?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, is a technique used during psychotherapy that focuses on relieving the stress created by trauma. EMDR can be an incredibly effective tool in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

While all forms of psychotherapy are based on the process and cannot produce overnight results, EMDR can cause quick results compared to many other forms of therapy designed to treat trauma. Studies have shown that up to 90% of people who had experienced trauma no longer had post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms after only three 90-minute sessions.

Results from EMDR may be faster than other forms of psychotherapy, but that still does not guarantee immediate results. Each person may react differently to treatment and take varying times or sessions to see results.

Although eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy can be combined with other treatment options, it does not usually rely on any medication or additional talk therapy approaches. 

Much like cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, EMDR programs set a specific end date for treatment, and it is not ongoing. After an EMDR program has ended, patients may continue to benefit from additional therapy, usually traditional talk therapy.

EMDR sessions usually last 90 minutes, and an entire program can be conducted over the course of twelve sessions. Depending on the circumstances, the patient and therapist may choose to conduct more or fewer sessions if needed.

How Does EMDR Work?

EMDR is based on reliving traumatic experiences. Many people, particularly those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, may struggle with reliving trauma or abuse. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is specifically designed to allow a person to think about their traumatic experiences without experiencing high levels of anxiety or stress.

EMDR therapists engage with a patient’s rapid eye movements and cause minor distractions to lessen the emotionally-charged effects of reliving the traumatic experience. Therapists may use hand tapping, visual stimulation, or audio stimulation to achieve the desired outcomes. EMDR is based on the principle that by reliving the trauma without intense emotions associated with the memories, the brain and body can naturally heal.

An EMDR program is broken down into eight phases of treatment. These eight phases can usually be completed over the course of twelve sessions, but individual cases may take more or less time. The eight phases of EMDR treatment are:

The Process of EMDR

The first step of treatment will be a session to learn about the client. A therapist will want to know about any past trauma or negative experiences. The therapist needs to understand when any symptoms of stress or anxiety began occurring and any significant life events that may have taken place around the time. To build an effective treatment program, an EMDR therapist requires a complete understanding of their patient.

After the therapist feels they understand their patient, they will begin preparing them for treatment. This includes showing them what treatment will entail and practicing eye movement exercises. A therapist may also teach the client coping skills to help lessen anxiety or depression, to aid in future treatment.

During this phase, the therapist will identify specific memories from the client’s life. This will include any trauma, abuse, or other experiences that may have led to either stress or the development of other conditions. At this time, the therapist will also identify physical sensations such as smell, sound, or a mental image associated with each event.

During this phase, clients will begin focusing on single memories while the therapist implements eye movement or other sensory techniques. This phase’s goal is for the patient to find a new memory or sensation associated with the event that they had not previously thought of. In most cases, when the client thinks of a new associated memory, they will begin exploring that one until they no longer find the reliving to be a stressful experience.

During this phase, the therapist will attempt to associate positive or healthy thoughts with the memory. This may involve having the patient think of something positive about themselves while reliving the event.

While the client is reliving the event, the therapist may ask them to let their minds go completely blank. At this point, the therapist will want to take inventory of the client’s thoughts and feelings after letting their mind go blank. The goal of this phase is to have no distressing feelings regarding the event in question.

Closure would occur at the end of the session only if the client and therapist could not see a memory processing to the end of the path. If stopping treatment in the middle of the process, the therapist will need to make sure the client is mentally safe and stable before ending the session.

If the processing of a memory were completed, the following session would begin with re-evaluation. The therapist and client will discuss the results of the last session, examine if any new feelings or memories have emerged, and created a plan for the current session. After re-evaluation, the therapist will start over from Phase 4 until no more distressing memories remain.

What is EMDR Used For?

The primary purpose of EMDR is to help people heal from past emotional trauma and the stress associated with the disorder. However, uses for EMDR have expanded since its inception and can now be used as a treatment for various conditions. Some conditions that EMDR can treat include:

  • Panic disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Recovering from abuse or other traumatic experiences

What to Expect After EMDR?

Once EMDR treatment ends, it may be recommended that the patient continue alternative therapy approaches. Even if EMDR treatment successfully removes the emotional stress of traumatic memories, traditional talk therapy may be a helpful option to prevent those negative thoughts and feelings from returning.

While many people use EMDR as an alternative treatment program to medication, some may find that EMDR is a foundation for a better experience for taking medications in the long term. You and your therapist should discuss medication and additional treatment options to find the best plan for your needs after EMDR treatment ends.

At AM Health Care, we are to help you deal with your mental health in any way possible. We believe in designing a treatment plan that precisely suits your condition and your needs. Mental health disorders can be disruptive and potentially dangerous when left untreated, so there is no reason to wait any longer. Please call us today at (PHONE NUMBER) to learn more about how we can help you and potential treatment options.

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