EMDR - Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing
Information originally developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro
The goal of EMDR is to reduce or eliminate negative thoughts and feelings and to strengthen positive thoughts and feelings.
EMDR works well for:
Reducing or eliminating the psychological after-effects of stressful/traumatic experiences.
Reducing or eliminating distressing feelings.
Reducing or eliminating negative self-perceptions.
Increasing positive feelings and self-perceptions.
Strength-building and skill development.
Negative memories are stored differently than positive or neutral memories. Negative, stressful, and traumatic memories are stored containing the thoughts, feelings, and body sensations of the original incident. These events can be what one would typically view as traumatic, e.g. a car wreck or a rape. They could also be a pattern of events such as bullying or living with a depressed parent. Current events periodically “trigger” memory networks leading to experiences where we react more strongly than the situation necessitates, or in other words we overreact. When a person is very upset, their brain does not process information as it ordinarily does.
A traumatic event may become “frozen in time”, and remembering a stressful event may feel as bad as going through it the first time because images, sounds, smells, and feelings remain unchanged in our mind. They are “stuck”, so to speak, in memory. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people. These memories also shape our beliefs about ourselves and we act out of those beliefs in our everyday life. These beliefs become the lens through which we view the world. EMDR is a mode of treatment that addresses these beliefs and memories.
Following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the negative event or stressor is brought to mind. Clients still remember what happened, but it is less upsetting. Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.
What is the actual EMDR session like?
During an EMDR session, the therapist works with the client to identify a specific problem as the focus of the treatment session. The client calls to mind the disturbing issue or event, what was seen, felt, heard, etc., and what thoughts and beliefs are currently held about that event. Dual attention stimulus is used while the client focuses on the disturbing issue or event, and the client is asked to notice whatever comes to mind without trying to control or censor thoughts. The client chooses which mode of bilateral stimulation they prefer; eye movements, tactile stimulation, or auditory stimulation (headphones).
Each person will process information uniquely, based on personal experiences and values. The client will continue the process until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with positive thoughts and beliefs about one’s self; for example, “I did the best I could in that difficult situation.” During an EMDR session the client may experience intense emotions, but by the end of the session most people report a reduction in the intensity level. There are two rating scales used which assist in tracking progress.
How long does EMDR take?
One or more sessions are initially required for the therapist to gather relevant information and to decide whether EMDR is an appropriate treatment. The therapist will also discuss EMDR more fully and provide an opportunity to answer questions about the method. Once therapist and client have agreed that EMDR is appropriate, the EMDR therapy can begin. However, disturbing material may not immediately be the focus of treatment sessions until appropriate “groundwork” is laid. This includes the client improving their ability to manage emotions and relax when needed.
A typical EMDR session lasts from 50-90 minutes. The type of problem, life circumstances, and the amount of previous trauma will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary. EMDR may be used in the context of a standard “talking” therapy, or as a treatment by itself.
Does EMDR really work?
Studies have investigated the effects of EMDR. These studies have consistently found that EMDR effectively decreases/eliminates the symptoms of posttraumatic stress for the majority of clients. Clients often report improvement in other associated symptoms such as anxiety. EMDR was also found effective by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, the United Kingdom Department of Health, the Israeli National Council for Mental Health, and many other international health and governmental agencies. EMDR is endorsed by numerous organizations including the American Red Cross, the FBI, and the International Critical Incident Stress Management Foundation. It is being taught in over 30 colleges, and is part of the standard treatment at many VA hospitals. Scientific research has established EMDR as effective for posttraumatic stress. However, clinicians also have reported success using EMDR in the treatment of numerous other issues. For further references a bibliography of research may be found through EMDR International Association’s web site at www.emdria.org or www.emdr.com.
Issues to consider before starting EMDR:
EMDR has a tendency to make bad memories seem distant or unclear, so if you are needing to testify in court, you and your therapist should consult with your attorney.
During EMDR treatment sessions there is the possibility of bringing up a memory strong enough that you could, momentarily, have an intensity of emotion similar to what you had at the time the event was occurring. As an EMDR therapist I work with clients extensively to prevent this from happening, however, due to the possibility:
It is important that you tell me about any traumas you have experienced prior to starting.
I need to be aware if you are involved in any type of recovery for addiction.
If you have concerns regarding being overwhelmed by emotions, let me know so we can address those prior to starting.
Helping clients live fuller lives in spite of the struggles they encounter is my goal. Please feel free to ask any questions regarding this information, or about other services provided. I have an abundance of research and educational material which I am happy to share.