EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that allows the brain to process traumatic or distressing memories in new way, allowing them to be integrated into our experience and left in the past where they belong. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma.
How it Works
When a disturbing event occurs it can get locked in the nervous system with the original picture, sounds, thoughts and feelings. This material can combine factual material with fantasy and with images that stand for the actual event or feelings about it. EMDR seems to unlock the nervous system and allows the brain to process the experience.
During EMDR therapy, the client is asked to focus on emotionally disturbing material in brief sequential doses while simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus, most often lateral eye movements directed by the therapist.This process provides access to the brain’s traumatic memory network so that information processing is enhanced, with new associations forged between the traumatic memory and more adaptive memories or information. These new associations are thought to result in complete information processing, new learning, elimination of emotional distress, and development of cognitive insights.
A Typical Session
A typical EMDR session is 90 minutes. In the early stages of treatment, the client and therapist go over the client’s history to discover which events may still be locked in the client’s subconscious memory. The client learns how to ground and calm themselves so that as disturbing events are recalled they have the tools needed to return to the safety of the present moment. Once the events to be worked on have been targeted the therapist takes the client through three stages:
1) Past events that are foundational to the client’s distress are processed, forging new associative links with adaptive information in the brain.
2) The current circumstances that cause distress are targeted, and internal and external triggers are alleviated.
3) Imagined future events are incorporated to assist the client in acquiring the skills needed for adaptive functioning.
Clients who go through a series of EMDR treatment sessions often notice a considerable reduction in the level of disturbance associated with an event and related events. PTSD symptoms are reduced or alleviated. Processing may continue after a session and clients may notice new insights, thoughts, memories or dreams.