“The goal of EMDR treatment is to rapidly metabolize the dysfunctional residue from the past and transform it into something useful.” 

– Francine Shapiro

At Abide counseling, we utilize experiential therapies to foster transformational change. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is one such type of therapy. Though the name may sound strange, EMDR has been revolutionary in the field of trauma healing and has helped millions of people around the world recover from distressing traumatic memories.

What is It?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) combines guided therapy and eye movements to help people heal from psychological wounds left by difficult life experiences. It was first created in the late 1980s to help decrease people’s distress related to traumatic memories. While it is still best known for treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), it also works for treating less severe memories that contribute to the plethora of issues people seek to address in therapy.

When a person experiences a traumatic event, the brain has a difficult time processing the information and the memory is not able to be properly stored. This can lead to feelings of being stuck in the past or in the negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that resulted from the trauma. When trauma is not processed properly as a memory, everyday things in the present can trigger the past event and send your brain and body back to the time of the trauma. EMDR helps to reprocess the information from the traumatic event so that it can be stored as a memory in the past and you can get back to fully living in the present.

Is it Legit?

Over 30 controlled research studies affirm its efficiency and effectiveness for treating PTSD and other trauma-related problems. One of these studies found that 77% of combat veterans no longer had PTSD after 12 EMDR sessions. Another study found that 100% of single-trauma survivors no longer met criteria for PTSD after six sessions. Furthermore, several studies reported a significant reduction in the symptoms of psychological trauma after only three 90-minute sessions.

The research is clear – EMDR works!

What does it look like?

In EMDR, a trained counselor takes a directive approach and leads you through several structured phases:

Phase 1 – History Taking

You will be asked to share about your distressing experience and the thoughts and feelings that it brings up. You normally will not be asked to explain the memory in explicit detail.

Phase 2 – Emotional Regulation Skill-Building

After trust has been established and goals clarified, the counselor then helps you create a toolbox of coping skills. The skills learned in this phase increase your ability to tolerate and recover from distressing emotional experiences.

Phases 3 – 6 Memory Identification, Stimulation, and Desensitization

In this phase, you will be asked to identify the memory and negative belief that you want to process, as well as a positive belief that you would like to internalize. The counselor will then ask you to focus on your target memory and associated negative belief as they guide you through a series of bilateral eye movements. After each set of eye movements, the counselor will ask you to notice whatever comes up for you in your mind and body and to rate your emotional response. Depending on your response, the counselor will then guide your focus for the next round. These series of eye movements and check-ins will continue until you no longer experience distress from the memory and are able to internalize your desired positive belief.

Phases 7 & 8 – Documenting between Sessions and Assessing Progress

At the end of each session, you will have time to discuss your experience and transition to the rest of your day. Between sessions, the counselor might ask you to document your related thoughts and feelings to track your progress and inform the next session.

How Does it Work?

Despite the abundant evidence that it does work, the jury is still out as to how it does so.

Francine Shapiro, the created of EMDR, noticed that her eye movements when walking in the park helped her better cope with distressing memories. She applied this observation to therapy and noticed that her clients experienced the same result. After further research and the eventual creation of EMDR, she hypothesized that the process works by activating the traumatic memory network and forging associations between the distressing memory and new adaptive information. As new, helpful associations are created, memory reprocessing can be completed, and distressing symptoms associated with the difficult memory abate.

Who does it help?

EMDR can help people of various backgrounds, identities, and ages break free from traumatic memories that keep them stuck in the past and in negative thought cycles.

In addition to PTSD, EMDR has been shown to be effective in treating:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic disorder
  • Specific Phobias
  • Chronic Pain
  • OCD
  • Eating Disorders
  • Substance Use Disorders
  • Dissociative Disorder
  • Adjustment disorder
  • Acute stress disorder

You might be a good candidate for EMDR if:

  • You have felt stuck in traditional talk therapy
  • You don’t want to talk in detail about your distressing memory
  • You are open-minded to the process
  • You have a sense of safety and security in your current life
  • You are interested in short-term therapy

If you, or a loved one, is having difficulty breaking free from a distressing event in the past, EMDR could be a beneficial next step. It is never too late to reprocess your past and regain your life in the present.

To learn more about EMDR at Abide or to connect with an EMDR certified counselor, please reach out to us. We would love to come alongside you in your healing journey.

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