What is EMDR?
EMDR is an acronym for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. EMDR therapy is an integrative psychotherapy approach for the treatment of trauma and post traumatic stress disorder. It is an 8-phase treatment that employs bilateral stimulation to help patients reprocess painful and unresolved memories from traumatic experiences. The goal of EMDR is to free patients from the intense and unhealthy grip of the unprocessed memories of their traumatic experiences.
History of EMDR
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy was invented in the late 19780s by Dr. Francine Shapiro, an American Psychologist. On a walk one day, DR. Shapiro accidentally discovered that bilateral eye movements had a powerful positive effect on the unpleasant emotions that stemmed from her past trauma. She tested these specific eye movements on others, found that they gained relief as well, leading her to carry out further research and eventually develop the EMDR treatment we now know.
The 8 Phase Treatment Approach of EMDR
1. History taking and treatment planning
This first phase in the EMDR treatment involves the therapist and client discussing:
• The problem(s) causing the client to seek therapy.
• Behaviors that have stemmed from the problem.
• The client’s symptoms.
This information will then be used by the therapist to develop a treatment plan defining the targets on which to use EMDR. These targets include:
• Event(s) from the past that caused the problem.
• Present situations that cause distress to the client.
Essential skills and behaviors the client needs to learn and adopt for future well-being.
Because eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy involve unlocking stressful memories EMDR clients need to be prepared on how to deal with the emotional disturbances that may arise. This phase is dedicated to the client and therapist establishing trust and developing a safe-place image that will help the client cope with any distress during the treatment.
In reference to the problem raised in phase 1, the therapist walks the client through identifying a scene from the traumatic experience and vocalizing negative beliefs about themselves from that event. The therapist records, evaluates and measures the negative beliefs expressed. The patient then identifies a positive belief that they would rather believe in which is measured by the therapist to determine its level of conviction to the client.
This phase is dedicated to identifying the patient’s disturbing emotions and sensations. The therapist by the use of bilateral simulations such as eye movements, using taps or tones guides the patient to reprocess the traumatic event raised while checking on their level of disturbance.
Based on the positive belief(s) identified in phase 3, the therapist works to build that positive cognition to replace the negative belief(s) in the patient through bilateral simulation while periodically measuring how true the positive belief feels to the client.
6. Body Scan
Once the positive belief has been installed, the therapist then asks the patient to revive the original scene of the targeted traumatic event. The therapist will be on the lookout for the presence of any residual physical tension or distress from the patient. If any are observed, then the process of the bilateral stimulation may be revisited as this is an indication of unresolved memories.
This phase is compulsory at the end of every session whether the traumatic memory has been fully reprocessed or not. The therapist helps the patient resume to a state of equilibrium at the end of the session by either discussing the session, developing self-calming techniques to regain stabilization.
This is the beginning of every subsequent EMDR therapy session. The therapist begins by evaluating and measuring the client’s level of disturbance and the maintenance of the positive results previously achieved. The results guide the therapist on the treatment plans needed to continue helping the client deal with their problem(s).
Benefits of EMDR
The Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy when considered as treatment has the following benefits:
I. Compared to other forms of psychotherapy treatment, EMDR takes a relatively shorter period for patients to experience relief. With researches indicating six 50-minute sessions as the average time required.
II. Due to its short-term nature, EMDR is a cost-effective form of treatment for trauma and PTSD.
III. EMDR therapy can also be used to address and heal non-trauma but painful memories that negatively impact an individual’s life.
IV. EMDR treatment results in the establishment of long-lasting behavioral changes that help individuals have a positive future outlook.
V. EMDR therapy successfully reduces anxiety and depression typically experience by trauma victims.
Possible Drawbacks of EMDR Therapy
As it is with almost every form of therapy, opening up about painful past experiences is required. Though EMDR does not require patients to delve into so much information about the traumatic experiences, opening up is difficult. And the first sessions may cause more distress before the healing begins.
Just because EMDR therapy treatment has been highly praised, it may not necessarily work for everyone nor may it take the short period as predicted.