EMDR is a recognized therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). EMDR (Eye-Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing) was developed about a decade after the recognition and characterization of PTSD by the field of psychiatry. Since then, EMDR has faced experimental comparisons to other forms of PTSD therapy, including the use of medications. During these studies, EMDR therapy was demonstrably more effective and efficient as a way to dispel the debilitating thoughts and behaviors that accompany PTSD. Therefore, EMDR therapy is approved by most all insurance companies and is offered by the Brain Health Clinic in Sacramento
How Does EMDR Work?
EMDR is an eight-phase process designed to accomplish the following goals:
- Identify the traumatic event and the memories and emotions associated with it.
- Determine the outcome desired by the patient when therapy ends.
- Develop coping strategies for compartmentalizing debilitating emotions.
- Neutralize the power of negative memories by stimulating the brain to process them appropriately.
To accomplish these goals, the therapist takes advantage of the same mechanisms facilitated by REMs (Rapid Eye Movements) during our dreams. It is theorized that dreaming plays a role in the normal processing of the days events and memories, recalling information that is useful and beneficial and discarding what is not. It may also be true that by forcing the brain to perform rapid eye movements while simultaneously recalling traumatic events, the brain is “distracted” from the memory, causing the strength of the trauma to fade.
Typically in life, the brain automatically desensitizes itself to traumatic memories, causing them to have less and less emotional impact over a relatively short period of time. After certain severe or repeated traumas, however, this process can be interrupted, leading to the weighty emotions, troubling behaviors and photographic memories involved in PTSD. In effect, EMDR “goes back” to the moment when these painful memories were formed and helps the brain to complete the process of desensitizing itself to the negative events.
Phases of EMDR Therapy
EMDR therapy usually requires eight to ten therapy sessions for each major traumatic event or series of linked events that are the basis of a client’s PTSD. During these sessions, the patient experiences the eight phases of EMDR:
Phases 1 & 2 History and Preparation:
- Develop a rapport and trust with the therapist.
- Identify the goals of EMDR therapy.
- Target the specific memories and emotions requiring desensitization.
- Train the patient to compartmentalize harmful or negative emotions by using specific techniques that allow them to escape to a “peaceful state.”
Phase 3 Identification:
In a safe, peaceful environment, quantify the patient’s state of mind when revisualizing the traumatic event or events.
Phase 4 Desensitization:
With therapist support, the patient continues to revisualize the trauma. Simultaneously, the patient is directed to follow a series of bilateral eye movements. Over time, this process desensitizes the brain to the traumatic memories, within a controlled situation.
Phases 5 & 6 Positive Cognition and Body Scanning:
As desensitization continues, the therapist helps the client develop positive thoughts to replace the negative beliefs and fears associated with the trauma. The patient monitors their thoughts and feelings while experiencing their revisualizations.
Phases 7 & 8 Closure and Reassessment:
The patient and therapist come to an agreement on what was accomplished and determine the client’s emotional state after therapy in comparison to where they were before therapy. The next stages of treatment are agreed upon.
Does EMDR Therapy Last?
The answer to this question depends on the patient’s dedication to completing the therapy over the course of 8 to 10 sessions. Studies show that when therapy follows the full recommended course of EMDR treatment, the beneficial effects are long-lasting. As a result, the US Department of Veteran Affairs states: “EMDR has the strongest recommendation for being an effective treatment in most clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of PTSD.”
Is EMDR Just Exposure Therapy?
Exposure therapy desensitizes the patient to negative memories by using prolonged and uninterrupted recall of the event in a controlled environment. For many PTSD patients, this process is extremely difficult. In contrast, EMDR uses brief recollections of traumatic events and allows the patient to control the length of time on any one moment or trauma by using free association during sessions. As a result, EMDR can also be useful for identifying associated memories that may be contributing to the client’s PTSD.
What Are Potential Side Effects of EMDR?
While EMDR does not have the pharmacological side effects of prescription drugs, there are some side effects that are reported by a percentage of patients. These include:
- Vivid dreams,
- Unexpected emergence of other unresolved memories.
The steps followed in phases 1 & 2 help the patient to deal with new memories or repeated memories if they arise outside of therapy sessions. In cases where EMDR therapy is too intense for a specific patient, the Brain Health Clinic recommends brainspotting therapy.
For more information about EMDR at the Brain Health Clinic, please contact us by phone or online. Let us help you to take control over the negative events and memories that impact your daily life!
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