Traumatic life events can leave lasting emotional damage. For those who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or have suffered other trauma, the effects can be profound and lasting—including sleep disorders, mood disorders, cognitive problems, and difficulty maintaining relationships.
Clinicians have worked for decades to find a way to break the trauma cycle for clients to resume emotional healing. In the late 1980s, Dr. Francine Shapiro embarked on a new path in treating people with emotional trauma. She postulated that rapid eye movement (REM), combined with controlled access to traumatic memories, could reshape the way our brains process trauma. The therapy, called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), has since altered the way we look at trauma therapy. Let’s take a closer look at EMDR, what it is, and how it works.
What Is EMDR?
In short, EMDR is a form of psychotherapy that uses rapid eye movement (REM) to reshape the way our brains process trauma. EMDR works from the perspective that psychological healing is much like physical healing. If a foreign object remains embedded in a wound, healing stops, and the wound festers. When the object is removed, healing resumes. Applying the analogy to clients with emotional or psychological trauma, the traumatic life event is the foreign object that impedes healing. EMDR proposes to redraw the way the mind processes the event so that healing can resume.
How Does EMDR Work?
We cannot travel back in time to alter a traumatic event, but we can change the way our minds process the memories. EMDR is performed in an outpatient clinical setting and involves an 8-phase treatment cycle. When a specific traumatic memory has been targeted, the clinician asks the client to hold various aspects of the traumatic event in mind while following the therapist’s hand movements with their eyes. It’s believed that the biological mechanisms associated with REM sleep (dream sleep) can help prompt an emotional shift—a new and less disturbing way of viewing a prior traumatic event. Clients who reported feelings of fear, horror, self-loathing, or guilt have emerged feeling empowered and even energized.
EMDR’s 8 treatment phases include…
Phase 1: History-taking and development of a treatment plan targeting specific memories.
Phase 2: The therapist introduces several stress management techniques to help the client maintain emotional equilibrium.
Phases 3–6: Using the EMDR process, the therapist asks the client to identify vivid images related to the memory, a negative belief about self, and any related emotional sensations. The client is also asked to identify a positive emotion about themself while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation sets using hand taps, tones, or eye movements.
Session length can vary from client to client as memories are targeted. Clients are asked to report any physical and emotional sensations they experience at this time.
Phase 7: The therapist asks the client to keep a one-week log, noting any feelings that arise and reinforcing the self-calming strategies learned in therapy.
Phase 8: begins the next round of therapy.
Could You Benefit from EMDR?
EMDR has been shown to deliver measurable results in over 30 positive controlled outcome studies. An HMO Kaiser-Permanente study using EMDR, for example, found that 100% of single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer exhibited symptoms of PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions. Another study showed that 77% of combat veterans reported being PTSD-free after only 12 EMDR sessions.
If you’ve suffered emotional trauma and are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, EMDR may be able to help. The technique has shown success with combat veterans and survivors of abuse, assault, motor vehicle accident, and other traumatic events—helping past trauma sufferers begin healing.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, don’t delay. Contact Key Assets Kentucky today.