Most people will experience at least one traumatic event in their lives, while many others will experience several. The effects of trauma can be debilitating and can include panic, fear, flashbacks of the traumatic event(s), nightmares, irritability, and hypervigilance. These symptoms do not fade over time, rather they tend to become more prominent and intrusive. Obtaining professional treatment after experiencing one or more traumas is highly recommended, as doing so can minimize the intensity of symptoms as well as prevent the development of additional symptoms. Today, one of the most highly regarded and effective treatments for trauma is EMDR.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, is a psychotherapeutic technique that helps treat the effects of trauma on the brain. Despite being a relatively new form of therapy, it has already helped millions of people learn how to rewire their brains so that they can rise above the trauma they have experienced. EMDR is also used to help treat mental health conditions such as anxiety, substance use disorders, and depression.
So, what exactly is EMDR therapy? During an EMDR session, the therapist will draw your focus by moving their hands or fingers, tapping you, or using lights. As the patient’s attention is on the movement before them, the therapist will encourage them to think of a traumatic event they have experienced. As they talk through that event, the movement continues and the patient stays fixated on following that movement. The therapist will help close the session by having the patient recall more comfortable, happy thoughts prior to having them rate their level of distress during the practice. This continues until the patient is no longer becoming highly distressed about the event.
EMDR is capable of helping patients reduce their levels of distress surrounding traumatic events, which in turn decreases the presence of trauma symptoms. Some might argue that simply following a therapist’s fingers or watching a panel of lights light up seems silly and ineffective, however it is anything but. That is because by fixating the eyes on a moving object while recalling a traumatic event can trigger bilateral stimulation, which gets both sides of the brain communicating again. After experiencing a traumatic event, certain parts of the brain can “lock up” and stop communicating with other areas of the brain, which is why the effects of trauma can last for such a long period of time. The process of EMDR is effective at getting the right side of the brain back in touch with the left side of the brain, which is able to offer soothing, healing qualities to traumatized areas. A person participating in EMDR may only need to attend a handful of sessions in order to make significant progress in their trauma treatment, as this approach helps alleviate symptoms fast.
EMDR is certainly not the most traditional of therapeutic treatments, but it is capable of reducing distress related to trauma. This is able to occur when a therapist utilizes the phases of EMDR while treating patients. These phases include the following:
- Phase 1 – History and treatment planning: gathering information about the patient and their traumatic experiences
- Phase 2 – Preparation: Teaching the patient what an EMDR session entails, as well as providing them with relaxation skills to help them through the process
- Phase 3 – Assessment: The patient is to recall the trauma and identify a negative and a positive self-belief about themselves while rating their physical responses to both beliefs
- Phase 4 – Desensitization: Having the patient follow the therapist’s fingers, a light, or tapping while recalling the traumatic event in an effort to minimize its impact
- Phase 5 – Installation: Replacing negative self-beliefs with positive self-beliefs
- Phase 6 – Body scan: Analyzing the physical response to the trauma and seeing what types of effects it produces
- Phase 7 – Closure: The therapist will guide the patient out of the EMDR session by having them recall a less distressing memory as a way to ease out of the therapy
- Phase 8 – Re-evaluation: Going over what was done in the sessions before to determine the effectiveness of EMDR and to develop a plan going forward
EMDR can easily seem like a highly complex type of therapy that might be overwhelming rather than relieving. But, it is anything but. EMDR can help trauma patients heal faster and more effectively from their trauma than other therapies. Usually lasting around 10 sessions, EMDR can help take care of deeply rooted trauma so that it no longer controls your life.