Everything You Need To Know About EMDR Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate psychological distress associated with traumatic memories.

EMDR is recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma by the World Health Organization.

What is EMDR Therapy?

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing is an interactive psychotherapy technique that uses side to side eye movements combined with talk therapy in a specific and structured setting.

According to the theory behind the approach, unprocessed traumatic and distressing memories can cause post-traumatic stress, which certain sights, sounds, words, or smells can trigger. When memories are triggered, traumatic events are re-experienced as if they are happening again. These unprocessed memories can contribute to a range of mental health problems including acute stress disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

EMDR helps individuals process the negative or distressing images, body sensations and emotions that are linked to the traumatic memory. EMDR helps you to see things from a different perspective and relieves the symptoms that you were suffering.

How Does EMDR Work?

EMDR therapy is a reprocessing therapy that alleviates symptoms of trauma or PTSD by changing the way that your memories are stored in your brain. Through EMDR patients reprocess traumatic experiences until they are no longer psychologically disruptive to their lives.

The treatment process involves an EMDR therapist leading you through a series of side to side (bilateral) eye movements while you recount and explain a traumatic event. This is done gradually, in small segments, until the memories that once triggered a response no longer cause distress.

EMDR practice generally has eight phases. The eight phase treatment generally involves six to twelve sessions, but more are often required;

Phase One: Evaluation Phase

EMDR therapists must first review the client’s symptoms and health history; they may also talk briefly about their distressing life experiences and related emotions and identify memories that may need to be addressed.

Phase 2: Preparation and Resourcing

Resourcing is where a therapist teaches a variety of grounding and stress management techniques so the client feel equipped with the resources to cope with the emotional or psychological stress they’re experiencing and uncomfortable negative emotions that will likely surface during treatment.

A therapist may teach stress management and relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and mindfulness exercises.

Phase 3: Assessment and Selection

During the third phase of EMDR treatment, the client will be guided through the process of selecting a disturbing event with a specific memory to target. This involves selecting relevant aspects of the painful memory to address including:

1.  The visual image related to the memory

2.  A negative self-belief about self

3.  Related emotions and body sensations

Clients will also be asked to identify a positive belief, rating the intensity of this positive belief in addition to the intensity of the targeted negative memory.

The process of selecting the memory to target can vary in intensity and duration depending on your life experience. For example, multiple trauma victims may take longer to select a memory and complete the whole treatment process than single trauma victims.

Phases 4–7: Treatment

When all preparation is complete, the therapist will begin using EMDR therapy techniques to address the targeted memories. This happens in four stages:

  • Desensitization. The client focuses on the negative memory or thought they have selected to target while simultaneously being guided through bilateral stimulation (BLS) which creates a dual-attention focus anchoring the patient in the present, while having focus on the past.
    BLS involves making side to side eye movements, listening to a noise in headphones that alternates from one ear to the other, or tapping either side of your body. The lateral eye movements may be similar to rapid eye movement (REM) in sleep, that takes place while we are dreaming. The type and length of these sets of BLM is different for each client.
    At this point, the EMDR recipient will be encouraged to allow their mind to empty and go blank and notice any thoughts and feelings that come up spontaneously. Depending on what the client reports experiencing at this point, the therapist will decide the subsequent focus of attention.
    If the client becomes distressed the therapist will follow a set of established procedures that assist the patient in getting back on track.
  • Installation. When the patient no longer reports distress related to the targeted memory, they are invited to focus on the positive belief they identified earlier. They will “install” a positive self-belief or image in replacement of the unwanted negative belief or memory. The client will then focus on this positive belief during a repetition of bilateral stimulation.
  • Body scan. The client is invited to notice any uncomfortable physical pain or sensations while thinking of the incident and the positive belief, to identify lingering somatic distress. If they report a physical response, the therapist will lead them through another repetition of bilateral stimulation.
  • Closure. After each session, the therapist will discuss their client’s progress and may suggest further coping strategies relevant to their experience that may help maintain improvements. The therapist may ask the client to keep a diary or log throughout the week documenting anything that arises that seems relevant.

Phase 8: Re-evaluation

During the next session, the therapist will ask about the memories and feelings addressed in the previous session, examining the progress made so far.

If those memories are still causing distress, the therapist will likely encourage repeating bilateral stimulation. If not, they’ll suggest identifying and moving on to new targets.

emdr therapy

Common Questions About EMDR Therapy

Is EMDR Therapy Safe?

Based on current research, EMDR is seen as safe therapy for treating trauma and other mental health conditions, with no negative side effects. However, due to the fact that the process requires individuals to recollect and focus on potentially painful memories of traumatic events, it can be triggering and bring up severe emotional distress as patients bring up those memories. Although, therapists provide support and coping mechanisms for dealing with the distress of recalling such events.

EMDR therapy can also trigger vivid or emotionally stressful dreams. However, these side effects will generally subside as the therapy progresses.

EMDR Side Effects

EMDR therapy has proven successful in reducing side effects of mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. However, it is important to know the uncomfortable side effects that some people experience during therapy.

Potential EMDR side effects include:

  • Tiredness following therapy
  • Changes in dreams
  • Feeling more emotionally sensitive
  • Remembering additional memories (as you focus on a past memory, other buried memories may surface)
  • Discomfort during EMDR (including muscle tension, tearfulness, or anger)

Does EMDR Work?

In numerous randomised controlled trials, movement desensitization and reprocessing has demonstrated efficacy in the treatment of PTSD.

Evidence has shown traumatic events can cause severe mental disorders and worsen their prognosis. While not as much research has been completed evaluating EMDR’s effect on people with anxiety disorders, panic disorder, depression, addiction and eating disorders, there are significant findings that EMDR therapy is beneficial in alleviating negative symptoms and improving overall mental health.

What Mental Health Symptoms can Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Help With?

EMDR can effectively treat:

  • PTSD
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Many forms of trauma
  • Panic attacks
  • Eating disorders

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is particularly useful in treating PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder caused by incredibly stressful, frightening or distressing events.

An individual with PTSD can be triggered by sounds, images or sensations that cause them to relive the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks. They may also experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.

PTSD can cause difficulty sleeping, sometimes resulting in such as insomnia, and individuals can experience difficulty concentrating.

Symptoms of PTSD often have a significant impact on the person’s day-to-day life, causing emotional distress physical sensations including chronic pain and increasing the risk of suicide or suicidal ideations.

Causes of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Any event or situation that an individual finds traumatic can cause PTSD.

These can include:

  • serious road accidents
  • natural disasters
  • sexual assault, mugging or robbery
  • serious or life threatening health problems
  • difficult childbirth experiences
  • combat exposure or war
  • childhood abuse

PTSD can develop immediately after an event or weeks, months or even years later.

How to Find an EMDR Therapist

Although clinicians aren’t required to obtain full certification in EMDR in order to practice, it is recommended that they do so in order to achieve full training and supervision required for certification.

At Addcounsel, we offer EMDR therapy in a safe, comfortable and private environment delivered by qualified and certified professionals. Contact us today to find out more about EMDR therapy or any of our other treatment options.


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