Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has recently caught people’s attention, especially after people like Prince Harry and Sandra Bullock talked about using it. Psychotherapists have used EMDR for decades to help clients generally gain insight into their traumatic experiences. So how does EMDR work, how does it help and what can you expect during sessions?
What Is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy?
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is an eight-phase treatment approach to help clients face and process past traumatic experiences.
When you experience trauma, your brain goes into survival mode to help you get through it. If you move on with your life without putting the traumatic event or experience in context, your brain may be easily triggered back to survival mode, affecting your quality of life.
EMDR therapy program helps clients process trauma memories and negative beliefs about themselves and the world. Unlike talk therapy, an EMDR therapist doesn’t try to reframe the traumatic experience. Instead, the client identifies the traumatic events, puts them in context, sees how they impact present life and charts a better path based on their new understanding of the traumatic experience.
Is EMDR Therapy Used to Treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Experts first developed EMDR treatment processes to help people manage symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The method helped people with extreme trauma recall the identified critical incident and all the physical sensations it aroused. From there, they could develop better emotional processes to manage future triggers.
Successful EMDR therapy procedures can help people with a mental health condition such as acute stress disorder, addiction or OCD utilize effective stress reduction techniques that help reduce symptoms of the debilitating disease.
How Does EMDR Work?
EMDR therapy contains eight phases of collaboration between the client and the therapist.
Phase 1: History Evaluation & Treatment Planning
The first session of EMDR therapy entails history-taking. You can talk about your life or focus on a specific traumatic event.
With the therapist’s help, you identify how the trauma affects your daily life and develop life improvement targets you’ll work towards during EMDR sessions.
Phase 1 helps your therapist assess your readiness for EMDR therapy and develop a treatment plan for future sessions.
Phase 2: Preparation
During Phase 2, the therapist helps you prepare to unpack traumatic memories.
Your therapist will teach you the methods used during sessions. EMDR therapy training sessions include the introduction of an external stimulus, such as a sound or movement, that helps you focus on a traumatic memory.
The therapist will also show you different ways of managing the emotional distress aroused by traumatic experiences. Many experts use the Safe/Calm Place exercise during EMDR therapy to ensure the client maintains equilibrium. Thus, your therapist may teach you how to imagine a safe place you can retreat to when stressful internal associations arise in reaction to a negative memory.
Phase 3: Assessment
Phases 3 to 7 of EMDR therapy involve the actual work of processing traumatic events and adjusting resulting negative beliefs. Depending on the extent of your trauma or the number of traumatic events you need to work through, you may undergo multiple rounds of these five phases.
During Phase 3, the therapist helps you generate a vivid visual image of the traumatic event you need to process. They’ll ask you to describe the emotions the memory evokes and your negative or positive beliefs about the event.
Phase 4: Desensitization
During desensitization, your therapist will use bilateral stimulation to move your eyes from one side to the other as you focus on the traumatic event.
The therapist may move a light bar quickly from side to side or use fast rhythmic taps on your hands or knees to stimulate rapid eye movements. Some psychotherapists use music for bilateral stimulation.
After each round of rapid eye movement, the therapist will ask you to explain if you have newer thoughts, feelings or beliefs about the traumatic event. If the distressing memories make it difficult to continue with the session, you’ll use the techniques learned in Phase 2 to regulate your emotions.
If you don’t experience emotional distress, the therapist will ask you to focus on the positive belief you identified in Phase 3.
Phase 5: Installation
During Phase 5, your therapist helps you further adjust a positive belief and entrench it in your mind. Afterwards, you’ll use the preferred positive belief to soothe any emotional distress you experience during later rounds of bilateral movement stimulation.
Phase 6: Body Scan
Phase 6 helps you create a stronger correlation between the positive belief and the traumatic event.
The therapist asks you to focus on the traumatic experience with the positive belief in mind and identify all physical sensations it arouses.
You may have to repeat the bilateral eye movements to improve how well you associate the positive belief with the event. Phase 6 ensures any emotional distress resolves without triggering your fight-or-flight response.
Phase 7: Closure
Each EMDR session ends with Phase 7. The therapist assesses how well you’ve processed the traumatic memory to see what you need to work on in future sessions.
The therapist may ask you to keep a diary after every session to record how well you implement the emotional regulation techniques you learned during EMDR therapy sessions.
Phase 8: Reevaluation
Consequent EMDR therapy sessions start with Phase 8, whereby your therapist assesses your mental state. They may go through your diary to see how well you’ve applied lessons from previous sessions in the real world.
Processing Traumatic Memories at Olympus Recovery
Trauma is disruptive to your mental health and affects your quality of life. Getting expert help is necessary for treating PTSD and other mental illnesses. Our experts at Olympus Recovery Delray Beach drug rehab center have successfully treated dozens of patients through EMDR and other therapy methods for processing previously disturbing events.
Call us today at (866) 305-7134 to learn better ways of handling emotional distress. Our experts are always on hand to help you identify substance abuse treatment methods for processing traumatic memories and improving your emotional health.