Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is an effective, evidence-based form of therapy for the treatment of trauma and other distressing life experiences. EMDR is endorsed by the American Psychological Association (APA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Department of Veteran Affairs. EMDR has been extensively researched and recommended as a gold standard for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
How is EMDR different from other therapies?
EMDR therapy does not require talking in detail about the distressing issue, or homework between sessions. EMDR, 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. EMDR therapy includes alternating eye movements or taps. For many clients, EMDR therapy can be completed in fewer sessions than other psychotherapies. EMDR therapy can help children, teens, and adults of all ages. EMDR can be used for a wide range of challenges, such as:
Understanding Frozen Memories
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 at 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 natural healing to resume. The experience is still remembered, but the fight, flight, or freeze response from the original event is resolved.
Experiencing EMDR Therapy
After the therapist and client agree that EMDR therapy is a good fit and begin to work together, the client will be asked to focus on a specific event or target. Attention will be given to a negative image, belief, emotion(s), and physical sensation(s) related to this event, and ultimately to a positive belief that would indicate the issue was resolved. While the client focuses on the upsetting event, the therapist will begin sets of side-to-side eye movements or taps. Then, the client will be guided to notice what comes to mind after each set. The client may experience shifts in insight or changes in images, feelings, or beliefs regarding the event. The client has full control to stop the therapist at any point if needed. The sets of eye movements or taps are repeated until the event becomes desensitized, or less disturbing. A typical EMDR therapy session lasts 55 minutes. EMDR therapy may be used within a standard talking therapy, as an adjunctive therapy with a separate therapist, or as a treatment all by itself. With EMDR, healing typically occurs much more rapidly than in traditional psychotherapy. Because of EMDR’s ability to clear emotional blockages, many people experience healing, openness, and a newfound sense of joy.