What is EMDR and How Does It Work?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a unique form of psychotherapy that is designed to decrease the disturbing feelings associated with traumatic events. EMDR differs from forms of talk therapy because it focuses more on the negative emotions and symptoms instead of the actual event itself. EMDR has helped many people overcome a variety of psychological stress.

EMDR focuses on the understanding that unprocessed memories contain thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and physical sensations that occurred during the event. The treatment centers directly on the memory with the goal of changing the way the memory is stored in the brain. EMDR aims to decrease and eliminate the problematic effects these emotions have on the individual.

The Benefits of EMDR

During EMDR therapy, individuals briefly focus on the traumatic memory and simultaneously experience bilateral stimulation in an effort to reduce the emotion of the memory. The bilateral stimulation includes eye movements as well as tones and taps.

EMDR therapy has a structured eight-phase approach that includes:

1.History and Treatment Planning

Usually, this phase lasts 1-2 sessions at the beginning of treatment. It can also be used throughout therapy if other issues arise. This is the development stage, where the therapist works with the client to design an individual treatment plan.

The client and therapist will discuss the specific issues and negative behaviors associated with the problem. After that, the therapist will evaluate and set specific targets to use EMDR. What sets EMDR apart is that the individual does not have to share specific details of the event. Instead, they provide a general outline and the therapist works to identify and target the event with EMDR.

2. Preparing the Client

During this phase, the therapist explains the treatment methods and introduces the client to the necessary procedures. This includes practicing eye movement and other bilateral components. This typically takes 1-4 sessions, or sometimes more for others with a very traumatized background.

It is important to establish trust between the client and therapist during these sessions. The client will learn what to expect during and after treatment as well as tools and techniques for calming themselves during distress.

3. Installation

The installation phase aims to increase the strength of the positive belief that the person has identified and effectively replace the negative belief. During this fifth stage of treatment, the positive cognition is strengthened and reinforced. The VOC scale is used to measure how deeply the person believes the positive self-statement. The main goal of this stage is for the person to accept the full truth of the positive self-statement at level 7 on the VOC scale.

4. Body Scan

After the positive self-statement has been installed and strengthened, the therapist will ask the person to bring the original target to mind and see if there is any residual tension in the body. The clients are asked to observe their physical response while recalling the memory. While positive self-beliefs are important, they must be believed on more than just an intellectual level. The EMDR treatment is not considered successful until the client can bring up the original target with no sign of body tension.

5. Closure

Each EMDR session ends with closure. Closure ensures that each person leaves the session feeling better than the beginning. If the individual has not completely processed the traumatic event, the therapist will teach the person a variety of self-calming tools and techniques. The client will be briefed on what to expect between sessions and how to record these experiences and keep calm.

6. Reevaluation

This phase opens each new session to ensure that positive results have been maintained. The therapists checks and ensures that the positive results of low SUDs, high VOC, and low body tension have been maintained. During reevaluation, the therapist will also identify any new issues that need treatment. Similar to other forms of therapy, the reevaluation stage is important in order to determine the continued of success over time.

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