EMDR is an evidence-based therapy used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It also works well for panic, phobias, anxiety, eating disorders, and other conditions.
Developed by Francine Shapiro, EMDR is an 8-phase process that helps clients deal with traumatic memories. During the sessions, therapists use eye movements to help clients reprocess these painful experiences and learn how to move past them.
Phase 1: History taking and client preparation
Before an EMDR Therapy session, your therapist will take you through a detailed history and assessment of your symptoms and the traumas that are causing them. This will allow your therapist to develop a treatment plan and create goals for the sessions.
The goal of the assessment is to identify which traumatic events are most bothersome, why you feel they’re troublesome, and how you handle them in the present. It is also important to discuss your emotions and belief system surrounding the traumatic event.
Once you have chosen a memory to work on, your therapist will cue you to perform rapid eye movements as you imagine a traumatic event in your life. This technique is believed to trigger the brain’s adaptive information processing system, a process that allows us to process new information and make sense of it.
This is a process that can take multiple sessions, as the brain and body need time to change its memory storage patterns. This is why it may take longer for people who have experienced a lot of traumas to recover from their PTSD than for those with only one or two.
Phase 2: Preparation and practice of eye movement exercises
During this phase, your therapist will teach you to use eye movements and other behavioral techniques to assist with processing emotional distress. They will also teach you self-care techniques so that you can cope with the feelings that arise during and between sessions.
Phase 3: Image recall and desensitization
As you imagine the scene of the traumatic event, your therapist will ask you to move your eyes back and forth rapidly, left to right. This is similar to the way your brain processes REM sleep, a process that can speed up the healing process.
You may also be asked to refocus your attention on the scene of the event while your therapist watches. This can help you see the situation in a more positive light and lessen your negative reaction to it.
The EMDR therapist uses a series of brief reprocessing procedures (BLS) to activate the neural circuitry that can help you heal from your traumatic experience. These BLS are typically performed with eye movement and other types of bilateral stimulation, such as tapping of the toes or hands.
EMDR is a powerful therapy that can be effective for most people who have been through trauma, even if you have had multiple traumatic experiences or are not sure which one caused your symptoms. It can be helpful for children and adolescents as well, especially if the trauma is chronic or repeated.