What is EMDR Therapy?
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.
The American Psychiatric Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs/Dept. of Defense, The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and the World Health Organization among many other national and international organizations recognize EMDR therapy as an effective treatment.
What happens during an EMDR session?
During an EMDR session, your therapist works gently with you to revisit the traumatic moment or incident, recalling feelings surrounding the experience, as well as any negative thoughts, sensations and memories while helping you focus on bilateral stimulation. This can be done using various technologies - a horizontal light bar to facilitate eye movements or tactile pulsating devices that you hold in each hand. For virtual sessions, an on-screen light bar will be used. By focusing on something external while dealing with the internal material you start forging new neural pathways, ones which give these memories far less physical and emotional weight.
To simplify, you can think of EMDR as a desensitization therapy. The memories won’t disappear but they won’t be as overwhelming or intense. This method can also help shift the underlying beliefs attached to these memories. “I was helpless and powerless and could be hurt again” becomes “I was strong and survived a tough experience not everyone gets through.”
How is EMDR therapy different from other therapies?
EMDR therapy does not require talking in detail about the distressing issue or completing homework between sessions. EMDR therapy, rather than focusing on changing the emotions, thoughts, or behaviors resulting from the distressing issue, allows the brain to resume its natural healing process.
EMDR therapy is designed to resolve unprocessed traumatic memories in the brain. For many clients, EMDR therapy can be completed in fewer sessions than other psychotherapies.
How does EMDR therapy affect the brain?
Our brains have a natural way to recover from traumatic memories and events. This process involves communication between the amygdala (the alarm signal for stressful events), the hippocampus (which assists with learning, including memories about safety and danger), and the prefrontal cortex (which analyzes and controls behavior and emotion). While many times traumatic experiences can be managed and resolved spontaneously, they may not be processed without help.
Stress responses are part of our natural fight, flight, or freeze instincts. When distress from a disturbing event remains, the upsetting images, thoughts, and emotions may create feelings of overwhelm, of being back in that moment, or of being “frozen in time.” EMDR therapy helps the brain process these memories, and allows normal healing to resume. The experience is still remembered, but the fight, flight, or freeze response from the original event is resolved.”
Who can benefit from EMDR therapy?
EMDR therapy helps children and adults of all ages. Therapists use EMDR therapy to address a wide range of challenges:
Anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias
Chronic Illness and medical issues
Depression and bipolar disorders
Grief and loss
PTSD and other trauma and stress-related issues
Substance abuse and addiction
Violence and abuse
Can EMDR therapy be done without a trained EMDR therapist?
EMDR therapy is a mental health intervention. As such, it should only be offered by properly trained and licensed mental health clinicians. EMDRIA does not condone or support indiscriminate uses of EMDR therapy such as "do-it-yourself" virtual therapy.
"The goal of EMDR is to achieve the most profound and comprehensive treatment effects possible in the shortest period of time, while maintaining client stability within a balanced system" -Francine Shapiro