How Does EMDR Work?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an interactive psychotherapy technique that is research-based and utilized as an effective treatment for trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What Is EMDR?
The World Health Organization recommends EMDR therapy for the treatment of trauma in children, adolescents and adults. Unlike other treatments for trauma, such as CBT, EMDR does not require the person in therapy to give:
1) detailed descriptions of the event;
2) direct challenging of beliefs;
3) extended exposure; or
4) require the client to do any homework out of the session.
How Was EMDR Discovered?
Francine Shapiro discovered EMDR while walking in the park in 1987. She had some distressing thoughts and noticed when she moved her eyes back and forth it seemed to make her feel calmer and less distressed. She was a psychology graduate student, and she decided to do some experiments to find out why she was feeling better after the eye movement. She developed a pattern for treating people with eye movement and set a protocol based on what was effective within the research she was doing.
Since then, there have been over 30 studies using randomized control trials that support the use of EMDR in many situations where people experience trauma. EMDR works! People report they feel better than they have in years.
No Homework? Is It Effective?
With no homework, no talking about the event in detail, no extended exposure and no directly challenging your beliefs, how does EMDR work?
In a real-life example, if you cut yourself with a sharp object, there are things you can do to help that cut heal. What comes to mind when you want to recover your cut? Ointment, band-aids, and that cut heals, but the memory of what happened and the pain will remain in our minds if we don’t adequately process or store the experience in a maladaptive way. If you think about that cut, the pain is still there; even though it is in the past, your brain does not let go of the memory. It is like it is still happening in the present.
With EMDR, the eye movement, desensitization and reprocessing allow our brains to move past the memory into a more positive present memory, processing that memory in a specific pattern called a “protocol.” The eye movement desensitization helps the brain to process memories based on current problems and processes the memories in a more positive light. This makes the client feel that things are resolved.
How Does EMDR Protocol Work?
EMDR Therapy helps people access some of their earliest memories that might be causing them destress now and looking at that earliest memory or “Touchstone Memory.”
It is from that memory that the client can derive their beliefs about themselves. The client may have the belief that they are worthless from their earliest memory and reprocess those memories.
Through a pattern of noticing your body sensations, images, beliefs and what they see, smell, taste, and touch, the client can move the negative thought to a more positive thought, having the more positive thought move into their memory.
EMDR allows the person to make more adaptive neuron connections. They can work through that negative experience and get to a more positive place. Their belief of worthlessness can be replaced with a belief of more confidence. Our brains can heal our trauma and replace negative memories with positive belief or cognition. We can heal our trauma through bilateral stimulation or eye movement and positive cognitions.
Frequently Asked Questions about EMDR:
(Taken from the website www.EMDRConsulting.com.
They have offered to use these questions as part of EMDR education)
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 processed, they rarely come back!
Is EMDR like hypnosis?
No. During EMDR processing, you are present and entirely in control.
Is EMDR a brief treatment?
EMDR, as with all treatment approaches, will help you accomplish your treatment goals. The length of time it takes is dependent upon the complexity of your situation. Frequently, EMDR is only one of several treatment approaches that will be used to help you reach your treatment goals.
EMDR Treatment may take several sessions to resolve your past memories and cut off your hurt from the past by replacing it with positive cognitions. The duration of treatment will depend on your willingness to continue and how many memories there are to cancel out and replace with positivity.
Overall Treatment Planning
• You come to treatment expressing concerns.
• Your therapist will help you understand the dynamics of the presenting concerns and how to manage them adaptively.
• An overall treatment plan will be developed that will accomplish your goals.
• Within that treatment plan, EMDR and other therapy approaches will be used to accomplish your treatment goals.
The EMDR session:
• You will be asked a set of questions to access and activate the negative experience and the desired adaptive resolution.
• Sets of rapid eye movement (or other forms of bilateral stimulation) will be applied. • You will be encouraged to free associate and allow the brain to work through the experience.
• Sets of eye movements will be alternated with brief reports about what you are experiencing.
• EMDR processing will continue until the past experience has been updated to an adaptive present perspective.
• With long-standing issues, this process may take multiple sessions.
Using what you’ve learned
Once the disturbing experiences have been updated, you and your therapist will work together to integrate these new insights and perspectives into your daily life.