Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an integrative therapy approach that helps people heal from trauma and other types of psychological distress like anxiety, phobias, addiction and much more. EMDR has been extensively researched and proven to be a highly effective therapy tool in helping clients completely process through distressing experiences.
How does EMDR work?
If you cut yourself, your body will naturally work to heal that wound. Our brains are no different. When experiencing a traumatic event, our brains work to manage and resolve the psychological distress naturally. 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). Sometimes the healing process works and sometimes it doesn’t.
When the brain is unable to naturally process through a traumatic event, it can cause a great deal of distress. It can make you feel trapped or haunted by upsetting images, thoughts, and emotions; stuck back in the traumatic moment or “frozen in time;” powerless to the events and consumed by negative thoughts about themselves or the world. No matter how much you avoid the events or talk about them, you are still overwhelmed by the weight. A memory like this can carry a “charge” throughout you lifespan.
EMDR “jump starts” the natural healing process in the brain by setting up a learning state that will allow experiences that are causing problems to be “digested” and stored appropriately in your brain. The useful aspects of an experience will be learned and integrated in positive ways. The inappropriate emotions, beliefs, and body sensations will be discarded. The goal of EMDR therapy is to leave you with the emotions, understanding, and perspectives that will lead to healthy and useful behaviors and interactions. While it doesn’t take away the memory, it helps you feel empowered and move forward.
Issues EMDR treats
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Childhood Abuse and Neglect
- Chronic Illness and medical issues
- Bipolar disorders
- Dissociative disorders
- Eating disorders
- Grief and loss
- Low Self-Esteem
- Performance anxiety
- Personality disorders
- Sexual assault
- Sleep disturbance
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Violence and abuse
Who can provide EMDR therapy?
The EMDR training process is rigorous and is a crucial component to ensuring that you are receiving effective and ethical care. As such, it should only be offered by properly trained and licensed mental health clinicians. EMDRIA, the governing board for EMDR, does not condone or support indiscriminate uses of EMDR therapy such as “do-it-yourself” virtual therapy.
When searching for an EMDR provider you will see two types:
- “Trained” or “Level 1” clinicians. These clinicians have completed the basic training in EMDR.
- “Certified” or “Level 2” clinicians. These clinicians have completed the basic training, have conducted a minimum of fifty clinical sessions in which EMDR was utilized, and have received twenty hours of consultation in EMDR by an Approved Consultant. Certified clinicians are also required to complete twelve hours of continuing education in EMDR every two years.
To find an EMDR therapist or confirm the status of a clinician, you may use the EMDRIA therapist search tool.
What does an EMDR session look like?
Once you and your therapist agree that EMDR therapy is a good fit, you will work together to find an appropriate event or memory to “target”. This includes identifying identify the negative image, belief, and body feelings as they relate to the distressing event. From there, you will focus on the target while your therapist administers dual attention stimuli (DAS) in the form of side-to-side eye movements, sounds, or taps. Your therapist will guide you in noticing what comes to mind between sets of DAS. You may experience shifts in insight or changes in images, feelings, or beliefs regarding the event. The sets of eye movements, sounds, or taps are repeated until the event becomes less disturbing. Often, it may take several sessions to work through one target.
There are 8 phases to EMDR therapy. To learn more about the individual 8 phases click here.
How long does it take to complete EMDR therapy?
As with most therapy, the amount of time it takes to complete treatment in full depends on the history of the client. In general, however, EMDR therapy can be completed in fewer sessions than other psychotherapies.
While EMDR therapy may produce results more rapidly than previous forms of therapy, speed is not the issue. It is important to remember that every client has different needs. For instance, one client may take weeks to establish sufficient feelings of trust with their therapist (Phase 2), while another may proceed quickly through the first six phases of treatment only to reveal something even more important that needs treatment.
Do I need to stop working with my current therapist if I want EMDR therapy?
No, you can do EMDR therapy while continuing to work with your current treatment team. We will ask that you complete a confidentiality release with your current providers so that we may coordinate your care throughout the duration of treatment. Furthermore, most major insurance companies will cover multiple office mental health visits per week as long as you do not have more than one visit per day.