WHAT IS EMDR THERAPY?
EMDR is an evidence-based psychotherapy treatment that is effective in resolving strong emotional, cognitive, and bodily responses due to traumatic or significant life experiences. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), as with most therapy approaches, focuses on the individual’s present concerns. The EMDR approach believes past emotionally-charged experiences are overly influencing your present emotions, sensations, and thoughts about yourself. As an example: “Do you ever feel worthless although you know you are a worthwhile person?” EMDR processing helps you break through the emotional blocks that are keeping you from living an adaptive, emotionally healthy life.
How is EMDR different from other forms of therapy?
EMDR uses a set of procedures to organize your negative and positive feelings, emotions, and thoughts, and then uses bilateral stimulation (BLS)--such as eye movements, tapping, or audio tones--to help you effectively work through disturbing memories.
The bilateral stimulation engages your whole brain in therapy. It works to engage both the right and left side of your brain in an alternating fashion. The rapid sets of eye movements (or other form of BLS) help you update disturbing experiences, much like what occurs when we sleep. During sleep, we alternate between regular sleep and REM (rapid eye movement). This sleep pattern helps you process things that are troubling you. EMDR replicates this sleep pattern by alternating between sets of eye movements and brief reports about what you are noticing. This alternating process helps you update your memories to a healthier present perspective.
EMDR focuses on the brain’s ability to constantly learn, taking past experiences, and updating them with present information. Adaptive learning is constantly updating memory network systems. Past emotionally-charged experiences often interfere with your updating process. EMDR breaks through that interference and helps let go of the past and update your experiences to a healthier present perspective. EMDR therapy does not ask you to forget your memories of things you have experienced, but instead assign new feelings and thoughts to the event. With the use of BLS, your body and mind will start to respond differently when discussing the traumatic event, and your distress will lessen, allowing you to create a sense of control and safety.
Does EMDR work?
More than 30 positive controlled outcome studies have been done on EMDR therapy. Some of the studies show that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute sessions. Another study, funded by the HMO Kaiser Permanente, found that 100% of the single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer were diagnosed with PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions. In another study, 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in 12 sessions. There has been so much research on EMDR therapy that it is now recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense. Given the worldwide recognition as an effective treatment of trauma, you can easily see how EMDR therapy would be effective in treating the “everyday” memories that are the reason people have low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, and all the myriad problems that bring them in for therapy. Over 100,000 clinicians throughout the world use the therapy. Millions of people have been treated successfully over the past 25 years.
Why does EMDR work?
No one knows how any form of psychotherapy works. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment becomes "frozen in time," and remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed. 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. EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information. Normal information processing is resumed, so following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. You 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 dreaming or 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.
Is it necessary to tell my therapist all the details about my problems in order for them to be processed?
No, it is not necessary to talk about all the details of your experiences for them to be processed.
Will I get emotional?
Yes, you may. Emotions and sensations may come up during processing; although, you will be prepared and your therapist will help you safely manage them. Once they are processed, they rarely come back!
Is EMDR like hypnosis?
No. During EMDR processing, you are present and fully in control.
Is EMDR a brief treatment?
EMDR, as with all treatment approaches, will help you accomplish your treatment goals. The length of time that it takes is dependent upon the complexity of your problems. Frequently, EMDR is only one of several treatment approaches that will be used to help you reach your treatment goals.
Interested in learning more?
Check out the EMDR International Association website!