What Is EMDR Therapy?

In December 2017, I posted an article written by Dr. Deborah Cox. I came across her sage advice, “Handling Holiday Anxiety and Depression,” when I was reading a newsletter from my favorite Pilates center, The BodySmith. When I went to Dr. Cox’s website, it listed EMDR therapy as one of the several forms of therapy that she practices. I made a note right then to learn more about this modern therapeutic practice.

What Is EMDR Therapy?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy was first discovered by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D in 1987. She created this therapy to help people process traumatic memories.

According to emdr.com,

EMDR therapy uses a three pronged protocol to:

  1. Process the past events that laid the groundwork for dysfunction.
  2. Target the current circumstances that elicit distress and desensitize internal and external triggers.
  3. Imagine solutions for future stressful hypothetical events to assist the client in acquiring the skills needed for adaptive functioning.

What Does It Do?

Previously, health professionals believed that it took the brain a long time to heal from trauma. Unlike the body, professionals believed the brain might take years to recover. Recently, this myth has been proven false. Instead, therapists are finding that the brain can heal itself quite quickly when guided appropriately.

On emdr.com, they compare the brain healing from trauma to a cut healing on the hand. If the cut is poked and scratched, it can’t heal. However, once the irritant is removed, the body works to restore its health. EMDR therapists are discovering that, like the body, the brain will rapidly heal itself once the trauma is processed.

The Science Behind It

EMDR therapy has been scientifically proven to work in several professional studies. According to emdr.com,

“More than 30 positive controlled outcome studies have been done on EMDR therapy.  Some of the studies show that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute sessions.  Another study, funded by the HMO Kaiser Permanente, found that 100% of the single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer were diagnosed with PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions. In another study, 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in 12 sessions. There has been so much research on EMDR therapy that it is now recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense.”

How Does It Work

EMDR therapy

Thanks to Welldoing for the image.

In a nutshell, your therapist will have you think about a specific memory. Then, the therapist will move his or her hands across your field of vision while you track their hands with your eyes.

One Harvard researcher believes that this eye movement correlates with the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) experienced during sleep. Because of this correlation, the brain is allowed to process thoughts and memories differently. This may be what allows the brain to heal from the traumatic event.

The Therapy Process

There are 8 phases of therapy. Keep in mind that these numbers don’t necessarily correlate to the number of visits you will need to resolve your issue. Some traumas may take a shorter time to process than others. Likewise, people who have several traumas to process should expect that it may take a longer time than it would to process a single trauma.

Phase 1:  History and Treatment Planning

In this first phase, your doctor learns about you and your issues you’d like to resolve. You will work together to create a history. This will help your doctor decide where to start first. Keep in mind that, although you may presently be struggling with a certain issue, your therapist may suggest you start with a memory from your childhood since many traumas go back further than we realize.

Although history and treatment planning normally occurs at the beginning of EMDR therapy, it may also occur throughout the process. As new issues arise, it may be important to reassess the treatment plan.

This information-gathering phase may last one or more sessions.

Phase 2:  Preparation

You have already informed your doctor about your issue that you want to resolve. Phase 2 is about giving you the necessary tools to deal with the stresses or triggers that you currently face in your day-to-day activities. Frequently, this involves learning different stress-relief techniques.

The goal is to calm yourself down in stressful situations instead of getting upset.

Phases 3-6:  Processing

These phases are a little more complex to explain than the others. In these phases, you will identify a:

  1. Vivid image related to your memory,
  2. Negative belief about yourself,
  3. Related emotion or body sensation, and
  4. Positive belief.

Then, the therapist will ask you to think about items 1-3 while engaging in EMDR processing. Afterwards, the therapist may ask you to let your mind go blank and notice any thoughts, sensations, images, or feelings you may have.

Phase 7:  Closure

In Phase 7, your therapist may ask you to start keeping a journal about what happens in between therapy sessions. This journal should include any important incidents that may happen. You should also include information about any times you calmed yourself down instead of getting upset by using the relaxation tools from Phase 2.

Phase 8:  Reevaluation

Now, it’s time to take a look at where you are and how far you’ve come. According to emdr.com, “The EMDR treatment processes all related historical events, current incidents that elicit distress, and future events that will require different responses.”

Who Benefits from EMDR Therapy?

Although EMDR therapy and tapping don’t have anything in common in terms of their techniques, they do help similar groups of people. EMDR therapy is specifically used to help people overcome traumatic incidents. The trauma may be something that happened in the past, however, a person can feel the effects of the trauma presently, and it may show up as anxiety or depression.

Because of the way that our brains process our trauma, individuals who are suffering from any of the symptoms listed below might be candidates for EMDR therapy:

  • traumatic event experience,
  • PTSD,
  • anxiety,
  • depression,
  • insomnia,
  • addictions,
  • phobias,
  • emotional problems,
  • angry outbursts,
  • difficulty focusing,
  • fatigue, and
  • gastrointestinal issues.

Learn More

To learn more about EMDR Therapy, visit emdr.com. If you’re looking for a therapist, you can visit emdr.com or the international EMDR association website. Of course, if you’re in the Springfield, Missouri area, you should just contact Deborah Cox.

Have you tried EMDR therapy? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.