How Is EMDR Used for Trauma?

by Jun 22, 20220 comments

Originally developed in 1987 for quickly and effectively treating PTSD in veterans, EMDR is a proven way to heal trauma. Today, people from all walks of life experience the benefits of EMDR treatment for trauma and anxiety.

Let’s look deeper into what EMDR is and how it works.

What is EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It uses bilateral eye movement (or other forms of bilateral stimulation such as tapping or sound) to help reprocess traumatic memories. Often, trauma sticks around in the form of memories we are unable to process effectively. This isn’t your fault—it’s survival.

Unprocessed traumatic memories contain thoughts, beliefs, and even physical memories of a traumatic event. When triggered, these aspects of traumatic memories are brought to the forefront and re-experienced.

Other forms of therapy focus on the thoughts and emotions that result from trauma. EMDR, on the other hand, focuses on the memory (or memories) itself and challenges negative beliefs that stem from it. It’s designed to actually change the way our brain stores traumatic memories. This reduces unpleasant symptoms that come with those memories.

Essentially, it takes away the power that traumatic memories hold over you and helps you move forward.

How EMDR Works

EMDR is broken up into 8 phases. Many people find they need anywhere from 6 to 12 sessions to find healing. However, it’s okay if you don’t fall within this range. Healing is different for everyone.

Processing a single memory typically takes 1 to 3 sessions.

Phase 1: History-taking

As with any other health appointment, your therapist will get a background of your symptoms and experiences. They will assess you to see where you currently stand with your trauma. Then, they will begin to help you identify traumatic memories, your triggers, and the outcome you hope to receive.

Phase 2: Preparation

Next, your therapist will explain the process to you and go over how the treatment will work. You’ll practice some bilateral stimulation so you know what to expect. You’ll also practice some calming techniques used to close out sessions.

Phase 3: Assessment of a Memory

Here’s where the work begins. Your therapist will work with you to identify a target memory. You’ll also identify any emotions, physical sensations, intrusive thoughts, negative beliefs, or images that come with it.

Phases 4 through 7: Memory Reprocessing

After identifying the target memory, you’ll being reprocessing it in 4 stages:

  1. Desensitization: First, you will focus on the target memory while being guided through bilateral stimulation. Notice any feelings or thoughts that arise.
  2. Installation: Next, you’ll identify a positive belief to replace the negative one you identified in phase 3. You’ll be guided through bilateral stimulation once more, this time while focusing on the positive belief.
  3. Body scan: Your therapist will ask you to report any unpleasant sensations associated with the target memory. They may lead you through another round of bilateral stimulation. You’ll do the same after installing the positive belief.
  4. Closure: At the end of each session, you’ll discuss your progress and partake in a relaxation technique to help bring you back to a comfortable state of mind. This might be guided imagery, deep breathing, tapping, etc.

Phase 8: Re-evaluation

In your next session, you’ll discuss what you addressed in the previous session—any thoughts, feelings, etc. If the memory from the last session still causes distress, you’ll continue working on it. If it doesn’t, you’ll move on to a new target.

Trauma is a difficult thing to live with, but it doesn’t have to be a permanent struggle. There is hope for healing. If you’re ready to overcome trauma, reach out today. We can discuss where to begin and develop a treatment plan that works for you.