Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) is an evidence based, trauma-focused psychotherapy used by trained professionals to relieve psychological stress. EMDR encourages patients to briefly focus on the trauma memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation, typically in the form of eye movements, which is shown a reduction in the intensity and emotion associated with traumatic memories. EMDR is internationally considered one of the most effective treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Unlike other therapies, EMDR does not require talking in detail about the distressing issue. Rather than focusing on changing the emotions, thoughts, or behaviors resulting from the distressing issue, EMDR allows the brain to resume its natural healing process through resolving unprocessed traumatic memories stored in the brain. The experience is still remembered, but the fight, flight, or freeze response from the original event is resolved.
The therapist will provide psychoeducation regarding EMDR and if both therapist and patient agree that EMDR is a good fit, the patient will work through the eight phases of EMDR therapy with their therapist. Through EMDR, individuals safely reprocess traumatic information until it is no longer psychologically disruptive to their lives.
Stabilization and safety are the key components of trauma work, and the patient will be working on this with their therapist before any processing of memories. The focus will be given to a negative image, belief, emotion, and body sensation related to the stressful/traumatic event, and then to a positive belief that would indicate the issue was resolved.
A standard EMDR therapy session lasts from 60-90 minutes. EMDR therapy may be used in addition to a standard talking therapy such as CBT or as a treatment all by itself.
Our brain has a difficult time processing trauma because it is the body’s natural response to protecting itself from extreme pain. In EMDR, “processing” trauma allows the distressing experiences to be digested and stored appropriately in your brain. This does not mean the memories of the experiences are erased but rather the emotions, distressing images, sounds, and feelings are no longer relived when the event is recalled. The goal of EMDR therapy is to completely process the traumatic experiences and to give patients the tools to deal with past, present, and future emotional distress.
Written by: Elaine Maichin
Psychologist at Sage Clinics