EMDR Information

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy used with various psychological conditions.  It is most associated with and approved for use with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but is helpful in treating all types of trauma.  According to the EMDR Institute, Inc., EMDR therapy contains aspects of several other therapies including “psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, interpersonal, experiential, and body-centered therapies”  (What is EMDR?, 2011).

EMDR works by changing how the brain recalls and processes memories.  During traumatic situations, memories can be stored in a way where the associated feelings and sensations attach so that they are fully re-experienced when a memory is recalled.  (How Does EMDR Work?, 2011)  The technique uses bilateral stimulation, such as tracking a hand movement, auditory tones, or tappers, while concentrating on a memory.  During the eight phases of treatment, memories are recalled and reprocessed (What is EMDR?, 2011)

In the first phase, the therapist obtains a client history and develops the treatment plan.  In phase two, the therapist works with the client to determine coping skills and develop rapport.  The third through sixth phase is where the memory is reprocessed (How Does EMDR Work?, 2011).

The reprocessing starts by recalling the most intense memory of a situation and the associated feelings with it.  The client then describes what is called a negative belief about the situation, such as deserving the punishment when being beaten for making a mistake.  The negative belief is then reformed into a positive belief, such as deserving understanding and compassion when making a mistake.  Finally, these beliefs are rated on a scale according to how strongly the client believes each statement.  While the client focuses on the traumatic event, the therapist applies bilateral stimulation.  After each instance, the client is asked to recall any current thoughts or feelings.  This process continues until the initial targeted memory no longer yields distressing thoughts or feelings (How Does EMDR Work?, 2011).

In the seventh phase, the therapist asks the client to document any dreams or new thoughts associated with the target memory that occur between sessions.  They are discussed in step eight at the beginning of the next treatment session (How Does EMDR Work?, 2011).

In addition to alleviating symptoms of PTSD, EMDR has been shown to be helpful with many other disorders.  These include the following: panic attacks, dissociative disorders, phobias, addictions, and personality disorders (What kind of problems can EMDR treat?, 2011).  Some studies have shown that EMDR offers faster relief than exposure and cognitive behavioral therapies (Comparison of EMDR, 2011).  Research has also indicated that the effects can be long-term, offering relief six months after terminating treatment as compared to no relief after ending treatment with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) (Grohol, 2007).

In conclusion, EMDR is an effective and proven therapy in treating clients with trauma histories.  It also may be useful in treating other psychological disorders.  Its eight phase approach does require the client to re-experience the targeted memory, but this is done is a safe and supportive environment.  It can be an efficient and effective therapy for clients with disturbing memories.