Eye Movement Desensitization and Processing (EMDR) treatment was discovered as a tactic in the treatment of trauma. When traumatic experiences are ignored, they can significantly affect an individual leading to issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, PTSD, and substance abuse.
EMDR therapy enables you to process traumatic experiences and this allows for healing. During treatment, a patient is expected to pay close attention to back and forth movements or sounds that call to mind the traumatic memory until shifts transpire to the point where the memories are experienced and information about what happened in the past is processed.
EMDR Therapy & How It Works
EMDR treatment is focused and intentional. It uncovers and looks into traumatic experiences and the process can be distressing to most. Therapists do their best to ensure that the procedure is effective and efficient so that treatment doesn’t take longer than necessary.
EMDR usually involves 6-12 sessions and patients receive treatment once or twice every week. The treatment is organized into eight phases:
- Phase 1- History Gathering & Treatment Plan Development
The initial stage of therapy involves the therapist delving into the patient’s life and gathering their history. In the session, the therapist and patient discuss potential triggers, barriers to recovery, and identify specific memories that require attention.
- Phase 2- Patient Preparation
In the second phase, the therapist walks the patient through the various treatment options. The patient is introduced to the bilateral stimulation used during treatment. In this phase, it is critical that the therapist and patient work closely to put together safe coping mechanisms. The coping skills are crucial during tough moments in between therapy sessions.
- Phase 3- Assessing the Target Memory
Phase three involves the patient focusing on their target memory. The therapist requests the patient to outline various components linked to these memories including thoughts, image, and bodily sensations.
- Phases 4-7- Treatment
In these phases focus is on healing the patient so that they can overcome their traumatic memories. Treatment in these phases include:
Desensitization where a patient pays attention to the memories while a psychotherapist conducts bilateral stimulation. In this session, patients are encouraged to share new thoughts associated with the memories.
Installation phase involves developing a healthier understanding of what the traumatic event means to the patient.
In the body scan phase, therapists request their patients to carry out a body scan. During the scan physical reactions to the traumatic memories are observed. If any distress is identified, bilateral stimulation is employed to target the distress.
The closure phase marks the end of each session. More often than not, target memory is not fully processed during sessions. This is why the therapist employs coping mechanisms that are used in between sessions.
- Phase 8- Assessment and Conclusion
This is the last phase and it involves the therapist assessing the patient’s emotional and mental wellbeing. The therapist evaluates how the patient is responding to treatment and if there are any new memories coming up. The information helps create a treatment plan.
What To Expect From Your EDMR Treatment
Every EMDR treatment session might feel different but this is what you ought to expect from your first session.
- You will get to know your therapist especially if it’s your first encounter with him/her. At this point you are free to ask any questions you might have. You get a chance to observe their behavior and personality so that you can determine if it’s someone you’d be comfortable receiving treatment from. At this point you might not be comfortable delving into your trauma, so conversations are kept light.
- Next, the discussion will shift into delving about your childhood. The therapist asks guiding questions to establish what your early experiences were like including your relationship with parents, siblings, friends, and other family members. The dynamics of your family life is also explored such as traditions and habits that became part of your life. This conversation might not be easy at first but a good therapist can help ease you into it.
- After, the therapist will discuss the negative beliefs you hold and have accepted as truth because of your previous experiences. It is important to be honest and open in this phase. This is because the information derived is critical in developing a treatment plan that is ideal for you.
- The conversation at this time moves to discussing events, issues, memories and feelings associated with the trauma. You should prepare yourself to be open enough to talk about these issues and situations openly. The therapist will guide you so that the conversations don’t get too overwhelming.
- During the desensitization phase of treatment, the therapist will begin by teaching you several relaxation techniques. Once you master the stress-relieving strategies, the therapist can now engage you in the first session of desensitization. During the treatment you should expect to:
- Revisit traumatic occurrences. In order for your brain to reprocess traumatic memories, you must begin by facing them. Your therapist will guide you into exploring these past events. The process could be traumatizing but the coping skills acquired in the first session will help you uncover as much as possible without getting overwhelmed.
- Looking into a moving light. While staring at a light moving back and forth might seem strange, it is one of the EDMR techniques that yield great results. All you have to do is trust the process.
- Explore how you feel. In the course of following the light, you are allowed to stop at any point so as to talk to your therapist about your feelings. The therapist guides you by asking leading questions about your psychological, physical and emotional wellbeing.
- Tension after the treatment session. EMDR therapy sessions can be overwhelming. Delving into past memories can take a toll and leave you feeling edgy after a session. This is expected and the most important thing is to be aware of the tension and take comfort in the fact that it will get better as you carry on with the sessions.