“The past affects the present even without our being aware of it.”
― Francine Shapiro
Our brains have a natural way to recover from distress. Many times traumatic experiences can be managed and resolved spontaneously. Other times, our fight, flight, or freeze response prevents distress from being processed without help. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy helps the brain process traumatic memories, allowing normal healing communication to resume. After successful EMDR therapy, the fight, flight, or freeze response from the traumatic event is resolved.
EMDR therapy is an extensively researched, effective psychotherapy method proven to help people recover from trauma and other distressing life experiences, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, and panic disorders. The following organizations recognize EMDR therapy as an effective treatment for trauma processing:
American Psychiatric Association
American Psychological Association
International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies
National Alliance on mental illness
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
U.K. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs/Department of Defense
The Cochran Database of Systematic Reviews
The World Health Organization
EMDR can help you move through a variety of psychological and physical symptoms including:
Anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias
Chronic illness and medical issues
Depression and bipolar disorders
Grief and loss
Substance abuse and addiction
Violence and abuse
EMDR therapy does not require talking in detail about the distressing issue or homework between sessions. EMDR supports the brain to resume its natural healing process. EMDR therapy is designed to process traumatic memories in the brain, so the person is informed by these memories but not controlled by them. Part of the therapy includes alternating eye movements, sounds, or taps. For many clients, EMDR therapy can be completed in fewer sessions than other psychotherapies.
EMDR therapy can be done in-person or via virtual platforms and must be done with a properly trained and licensed mental health clinician.
After the client and therapist discuss the client’s history, develop a treatment plan, prepare for trauma treatment, and agree that EMDR reprocessing is a good fit, the client will be asked to focus on a specific event. Attention will be given to a negative image, belief, feelings, and body sensations related to this event. While the client focuses on the upsetting event, the therapist will begin sets of side-to-side eye movements, sounds, or taps. The client will be guided to notice what comes after each set. There might be changes in insights, images, feelings, body sensations, and/or beliefs regarding the event. The client has full control to stop reprocessing at any point if needed. The sets of eye movements, sounds, or taps are repeated until the event becomes less disturbing. Then the client will focus their attention on a positive belief that would indicate the issue was resolved. After, the client will process any disturbance still left in their body related to this event. Before the end of the session, the therapist supports the client to feel grounded and close the session. At the beginning of the next session, the client and therapist review the work done in the past session and continue reprocessing events as needed.