EMDR is a form of psychotherapy that has been used traditionally to address issues of trauma, which can be described as uncomfortable memories that seem to become frozen in time. EMDR may be helpful if you have thoughts or nightmares about disturbing events. When these disturbances in consciousness are so upsetting, you might have difficulty concentrating. You also may find that you are so anxious or sad that you can’t work, or can’t be with people as you were before the event occurred.
What to Expect
In the initial EMDR sessions, your therapist gathers history, and assesses if you have the ability to manage strong feelings and memories as you recall the event. The therapist might provide exercises to help you reduce the intensity of the experience as you recall it during therapy or after you leave the session to go home.
A Session Could Include
EMDR includes components of cognitive therapy and other well established styles of therapy. EMDR includes what therapists call bilateral stimulation, which looks like movement in front of the eyes, or alternating tones in earphones, or pulses in hand-held devices. The brain is stimulated alternately on the right and left side. When this happens, change occurs. No one knows exactly how EMDR works. This technique is not related to hypnosis and no suggestions are being made to you as you engage in this therapy. Instead, during EMDR, clients access their own memories and their own personal wisdom to produce high quality insights, which often lead to reduced stress and positive behavior change.
Before, during, and after the therapy, you are asked certain questions, such as to rate the intensity of your distress around the event. The therapy usually concludes when your memories no longer have a “charge”. That is, you remember the event more as a story, rather than as a disturbance.
You may continue to actively “process” the session after you leave the office. Some old memories may surface during the week. For more severe events, you and your therapist may target several specific memories around the trauma, and perhaps more than one or two sessions are necessary for each memory.
What is fascinating about EMDR is that sometimes the distress around an extraordinarily tragic event can be reduced to “just a memory” in one session, whereas an event that appears to carry a smaller “charge” might require additional sessions, or vice versa.
Many people resonate well with EMDR and benefit from it. Some don’t. Fortunately, there are other methods that I use to address trauma. However, I have witnessed EMDR as such a powerful tool that I usually offer EMDR first. Every client is completely unique, and every person responds to therapy differently.
In multiple studies, EMDR has been proven effective for many people for the following conditions: trauma, panic attacks, complicated grief, dissociative disorders, disturbing memories, phobias, pain disorders, and performance anxiety. It has also been used to address stress reduction, substance addictions, behavioral addictions such as gambling and sexual and/or physical abuse.