You might have heard of EMDR and wondered exactly what it is. Some of our clients call it “magic,” but we assure you it isn’t! Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a set of standardized protocols (think of it like a series of steps) that incorporate elements from many different treatment approaches. It has been researched extensively and proven effective for the treatment of a number of issues.
What Issues Can EMDR Treat?
- Traumatic experiences, including PTSD
- Panic attacks
- Complicated grief
- Disturbing memories
- Pain disorders
- Performance anxiety
- Stress reduction
- All types of abuse (sexual, physical, spiritual, etc.)
- Body dysmorphic disorders
- Personality disorders
This isn’t an exhaustive list – practitioners have used it for many issues with great success!
How Exactly Does it Work?
Based on the research, it appears this therapy has a direct effect on the way the brain processes information. This is very beneficial to someone who has experienced a trauma, as their brain cannot process information as it normally does.
When a traumatic event or events happens to a person, a moment in time becomes “stuck” in their minds, and they experience the trauma, the sounds, smells and images over and over again. This, in turn, effects how they see the world around them and relate to other people. It’s kinda like the brain filing cabinet gets turned upside down and all the files are everywhere, so finding and processing information becomes extremely difficult or impossible. For other issues, beliefs tend to get stuck and need help being moved and shifted.
After a successful session, the brain can once again process information normally and the person no longer relives the trauma or has the stuck beliefs. While the person still remembers the event happened or the old belief was there, they are not physically, mentally or emotionally upset by it. It’s like picking up all those files, putting them back in their proper places, and closing the drawer.
What is perhaps most interesting about this therapy is that it appears to be very similar to what occurs naturally during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. For this reason, EMDR can be considered a physiologically based therapy that helps individuals deal with distressing events in a new and less disturbing way.
What Are Sessions Like?
EMDR is an integrative approach that incorporates eight phases of treatment. Treatment can last just a few sessions to several months – it really depends on the person’s experiences and what needs to be re-filed. Though eight phases sounds like a lot, they can move pretty fast.
- Phase 1 – Getting to know you. Your therapist gets your history and together you set goals for treatment. This can take one or more sessions.
- Phase 2 – Resourcing. This is the most important phase. This phase teaches you the skills to feel better now and when things are being re-filed. Depending on the severity of what’s going on and how long it’s been happening this can take a number of sessions. In our experience, this is the most important phase because it sets the foundation for feeling better now and for re-filing your stuff.
- Phase 3 – Assessment. This is where we identify what we are going to target for reprocessing. Together, we identify where we want to start the re-filing process. This usually takes a session (sometimes even less time).
- Phase 4 – Desensitization. This is where we start the re-filing. This can take one or more sessions depending on the severity of the issue and how long the client has been experiencing it.
- Phase 5 – Installation. Basically, this is where we are taking your filing cabinet and making sure all the files are in their places and it’s ready to be closed.
- Phase 6 – Body Scan. Here we are checking in with your body to make sure we didn’t miss anything. If we did, we pop back up to Phase 4 and get it filed.
- Phase 7 – Closure. The filing cabinet gets closed. We also can pop down to Phase 7 from Phase 4 if we don’t have enough time to fully file something in a single session. We make sure we have amazing resources in place during Phase 2 to facilitate this process.
- Phase 8 – Re-evaluation. This is where we do a final check in to make sure what we targeted has been completely addressed.
Depending on what we’re targeting, Phases 3-7 can take place in a single session. For more complex issues or ones that have been happening a long time it can take more sessions to get through those phases. Each session aims to leave the patient with healthy emotions, understanding, and fresh perspectives that will ultimately lead to healthy and useful future behaviors and interactions.
How Long Does it Take EMDR to Work?
It really depends on what the issues are. We generally tell people to plan for at least 12. Sometimes it goes more quickly, and sometimes – especially when there is complex trauma – it can take more. Sessions with clients in our practice typically last 50 minutes, though intensives can be scheduled if a client desires to do so. Your therapist will work with you once history is gathered (Phase 1) to create a plan and help you know what to expect. Our goal is always to get things completely re-filed as fast as possible so you live without the junk files all over causes!
How Do I Know EMDR Works?
There is a lot of research discussing the effectiveness of EMDR. You can explore it here.
Tell Me About Your Training
Several of our licensed therapists and interns have been highly trained in EMDR and are able to offer it both as in-person and video therapy sessions. Tabitha also is an EMDRIA Certified Therapist. Tabitha and Norma also do therapy intensives. Intensives are awesome if you want/need to cover a lot of ground quickly. You can learn more here.
Let’s Get Started!
If you want to know more about EMDR, reach out here to schedule your free, 15-minute phone consultation today. One of our Wake Forest counseling team will be happy to chat and get you on the road to healing!