Perhaps you’ve heard about EMDR as a type of therapy that is effective at treating trauma and PTSD. This is true and EMDR can be used to treat a variety of mental health challenges from anxiety and phobias to trauma to self-worth issues. You don’t have to have a major trauma to benefit from EMDR therapy.
What is EMDR?
EMDRIA.org describes EMDR as “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an extensively researched, effective psychotherapy method proven to help people recover from trauma and other distressing life experiences, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, and panic disorders.” EMDR uses what’s known as the Adaptive Information Processing model. AIP proposes that traumatic memories are not stored properly in long term memory. This why you can often call vivid details of a traumatic event.
How Does it Work?
EMDR uses a 4 pronged “laser'' and identify the mental image associated with an event, the thoughts you have about yourself or your world, the emotions you experience now, and where you experience that in your body, to activate a memory.
Then Bilateral Stimulation is utilized to reprocess the memory. BLS (bilateral stimulation) is activating one side of the brain, then the other, alternately with eye movements, audio tones, of physical stimulation like tapping). BLS reprocesses the memory, moving the traumatic memory and it’s associated details into long term storage where it is no longer easily reactivated. It’s the reactivation of painful emotions that is most problematic for people who’ve experienced traumatic events.
EMDR is very different from standard talk therapy as most of the “work” is done with BLS and not through discussion with the therapist. It’s your brain doing the work of reprocessing that alleviates the symptoms.
We also use BLS to wire in new adaptive material like healthy coping, self worth, a sense of safety. EMDR has 8 phases and targets both past memories, present day issues, and potential future scenarios. Most people, depending on the severity and complexity of their history, can experience relief in under 12 sessions. Read more here.
Who is a good candidate?
EMDR can be effective for significant trauma as well as more low level chronic negative experiences consistent with developmental trauma. Developmental trauma is often caused by unavailable or unsupportive caregivers but also other adverse experiences during formative years. We all have present day challenges, fears, insecurities with roots back to the past.
Anyone who would like to experience less distress related to historical experiences or who has specific memories that are emotionally activating can benefit from EMDR.
EMDR is a rigorous form of therapy with a high likelihood of experiencing intense emotions and physical sensations and traumatic memories resurfacing including but not limited to disturbing thoughts and images.
EMDR can help clients process these memories more quickly than standard talk therapy but it is good to be prepared for this. Individuals who have good emotional regulation and coping skills, good internal resources and social support are good candidates. It’s important that your current day to day life is stable and secure and you are not experiencing current or ongoing significant stressors. The second phase of EMDR treatment involves ensuring you are prepared with the emotional regulation and coping skills required to begin treatment.
It’s important to consider your present day level of stress, an up coming move, job change, stressful family situation, or other overwhelming situation may make it not a good time to begin treatment. You should also let your clinician know if you have any seizure disorders, eye pain, Dissociative Disorders, or are in the first trimester of pregnancy. EMDR can be very tiring so it’s good to schedule sessions when you have some time for self care.
Benefits of EMDR
Decades of peer reviewed research have shown the benefits of EMDR.
Most individual experience a significant reduction is symptoms including but not limited to: flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts or memories, negative beliefs, dysregulated emotions, anxiety and depression, and more. Many individuals no longer meet criteria for a PTSD diagnosis after completion of treatment.
If we think of trauma like a backpack of heavy books to carry, each negative experience adding books to the backpack. You are walking through life, trying to accomplish your goals and be happy while carrying a heavy load impacting all that you do. EMDR let’s you unpack the bag and have less to carry with you.
It can be difficult and intense but the benefits truly are remarkable.
Are you interested in EMDR? Nikki Yardy, LCPC has been practicing EMDR and is currently pursing training to be a certified practitioner. You can read more about EMDR with Nikki here and contact her to schedule a free consultation to see how EMDR may benefit you.