EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is an evidence-based psychotherapy done by a specially trained therapist. The overall goal is to support individuals in decreasing distressful symptoms caused by traumas or difficult experiences.
How is it different from talk therapy?
EMDR has been shown to reduce symptoms of trauma faster than talk therapy. In varying phases of EMDR talking is limited. EMDR studies have been shown to reduce and ELIMINATE symptoms as opposed to talk therapy which focuses on building insights and teaching clients coping skills to MANAGE symptoms.
Who can it help?
EMDR was discovered and developed in the late 1980s by Francine Shapiro. The initial studies were conducted with individuals who had PTSD. Since then it has been shown to help reduce symptoms of anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, substance use disorders, eating disorders. The theory being, that by targeting the difficult experiences, or traumas, with the EMDR protocols that the symptoms of the disorders will then reduce. In short, EMDR may be helpful for any individual who has ever had a difficult life experience that they have not fully healed from.
That’s REM sleep and that’s what we are aiming to do with EMDR.
How does EMDR work?
Individuals work with their EMDR therapist to identify past disturbing experiences, current events that cause distress and what is needed to navigate future situations successfully. One theory is that the eye movements (or tapping, buzzers, or headphones) create the same bilateral stimulation that your brain creates during REM sleep to support the processing of disturbing memories. Have you ever gone to bed really emotional about an event that happened in your day and then you wake up and you still have the memories of the event but your emotional reaction is less intense? That’s REM sleep and that’s what we are aiming to do with EMDR.
What does it look like in the room?
After assessment and preparation (which typically look like talk therapy and skill building) it is time for the desensitization. During this phase the therapist and client agree on a target memory then position themselves sitting diagonally opposite from each other about 3 feet apart. The client holds their head still while their eyes track the therapist’s finger from one side to another. Some therapists also use buzzers that the client holds in their hands, a light bar, or headphones as alternatives to eye movements. The therapist takes breaks and asks the client to briefly recall what their brain was focusing on (could be a distant or recent memory, picture, emotion, somatic response, etc) and then encourages the client to continue to think of that and allow for any new memories, sensations, or feelings to come up. Although some things your brain goes to may seem unrelated to the target memory, there is no ‘wrong’ thing that could come up during desensitization. The theory is, whatever is coming up is related to your brain/body processing and healing from the target memory. EMDR has been adapted to do virtually.
To find out more about EMDR and if it could be a fit for you please contact firstname.lastname@example.org