EMDR Therapy Definition
EMDR therapy is a psychological tool that can aid those struggling with mental health issues caused by traumatic experiences. It’s primarily used for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but may also be effective in treating anxiety disorders and depression.
At the start of therapy, your therapist may lead you through a brief process to collect information about your trauma or distress. This involves asking you questions about what happened and developing coping skills for managing emotions and thoughts. Additionally, they may ask what caused the trauma in order to understand its source.
The therapist will then ask you to focus on an image or thought that has been troubling you. They may instruct you to make side-to-side eye movements as you consider this image or thought, engaging both sides of your brain in a process some experts believe helps diminish memory intensity.
Next, your therapist will use a combination of hand motions and visual stimulation to redirect your mind and body’s attention away from disturbing memories. This may involve tapping on your hands, moving your eyes to follow light or using audio tones to stimulate both ears simultaneously.
Once your therapist has guided you through these procedures, they’ll move onto the second phase of treatment. This involves identifying a positive belief to build upon and assessing any negative beliefs regarding traumatic memories or images. You will be asked to rate these according to subjective units of disturbance (SUDs), with zero being no disturbance at all and 10 being the most distressing thing ever experienced.
Finally, you’ll be asked to rate your emotions by focusing on the sensation in your body and any symptoms associated with that emotion. This will allow you to track progress over time.
In the third phase, bilateral stimulations will be employed to activate your brain and remove negative thoughts, images and body sensations. These may include eye movement, tones or rhythmic taps on your hands.
You’ll be instructed to repeat the EMDR processing exercises until you feel less distressed by negative thoughts and images and memories no longer disturb you. This may take several sessions, but results should begin appearing within a few weeks or months.
Your therapist will continue to guide you through this process until your traumatic memories no longer cause distress. Generally, this should take only a few sessions; however, if the event is complex or has multiple parts, additional sessions may be needed.
EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment that has been scientifically proven to be highly effective for trauma victims, particularly PTSD sufferers. Studies have indicated that 84%-90% of single trauma victims experienced no PTSD symptoms after three 90-minute sessions and 77% of combat veterans experienced freedom from PTSD symptoms after 12 sessions.