Everything You Need to Know About EMDR
| by Kristen Milliron, LCSW, Mental Health Therapist |
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is one of the main modalities I use in my mental health therapy practice that holds a lot of mystery. It has been popularized in social media as THE go-to treatment for past trauma and negative experiences. However, not every patient will be the perfect candidate for any modality: especially EMDR.
If you're curious about this innovative therapeutic approach or considering it for yourself or a loved one, you've come to the right place. EMDR is a powerful and widely recognized method for processing traumatic experiences and managing various mental health conditions.
In this blog, I'll address some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about EMDR, shedding light on its effectiveness, the process, and what to expect during EMDR therapy. Whether you're a newcomer to the concept or seeking detailed information about how I practice, I hope to provide clarity and insights to help you make informed decisions about your mental health journey. Let's dive in!
What Is EMDR ?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Densensitization and Reprocessing. It is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally developed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. EMDR is based on the idea that traumatic memories can become "stuck" in the brain, causing distressing symptoms and emotional reactions. The goal of EMDR is to help individuals process and reprocess these memories so that they can be integrated into a person's overall memory network in a healthier way.
The core component of EMDR involves bilateral stimulation, which can be achieved through various means, including side-to-side eye movements, tapping, or auditory cues. During an EMDR session, the therapist guides the individual to focus on specific traumatic memories or distressing thoughts while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation. This process aims to facilitate the brain's natural ability to process and adaptively integrate these memories, reducing their emotional charge and associated symptoms.
Most commonly in my practice, I use lateral eye movements using a moving dot paired with auditory signals in an integrated software program.
How Does EMDR Work?
EMDR works by stimulating the brain in ways that lead it to process unprocessed or unhealed memories, leading to a natural restoration and adaptive resolution, decreased emotional charge (densensitization, or the "D" of EMDR), and linkage to positive memory networks (reprocessing, of the "R" of EMDR).
The therapy arc typically consists of multiple phases, including assessment, preparation, desensitization, installation, and body scan. Through these phases, I work with you to identify and process your traumatic experiences, develop coping mechanisms, and work towards resolution and healing.
The Phases of EMDR in Detail-
Assessment: The EMDR process begins with an assessment. During this phase, I can gather information about your history, the traumatic events you've experienced, and your current symptoms and emotional reactions. This assessment helps me understand your unique needs and determine if EMDR is an appropriate treatment.
Preparation: Before diving into traumatic memories, I like to build a foundation of trust and safety. I'll use other therapy modalities and teach relaxation techniques and coping skills to ensure you are emotionally prepared to handle the intense emotions that may arise during EMDR sessions.
Desensitization: This is the core phase of EMDR. I will ask you to identify a specific traumatic memory or distressing thought. While focusing on that memory, you'll engage in the bilateral stimulation (as described above). This bilateral stimulation is believed to mimic the rapid eye movements that occur during REM sleep, which is thought to be a natural process for processing and integrating memories.
Installation: After multiple sessions of desensitization, the goal is to replace the distressing beliefs or negative self-perceptions associated with the traumatic memory with positive and adaptive beliefs. We'll work to reinforce these positive beliefs while processing the memory.
Body Scan: In this phase, I'll help you identify and process any residual physical sensations or tension associated with the traumatic memory. I want to ensure that the trauma is fully processed and integrated on both an emotional and physical level.
Closure: At the end of each EMDR session, I'll help you return to a state of emotional equilibrium. This often involves relaxation techniques to ensure that you feel grounded and safe before ending the session.
Reevaluation: In subsequent sessions, I will assess the progress you have made in processing traumatic memories and reducing associated symptoms. If necessary, we will target additional traumatic memories or continue to work on existing ones.
EMDR works by stimulating the brain in ways that lead it to process unhealed memories, leading to a natural restoration and adaptive resolution, decreased emotional charge, and linkage to positive memory networks.
Who can benefit from EMDR Therapy?
EMDR has been found to be a very effective mental health treatment for someone who is struggling with a past traumatic event. This includes single incidents or multiple distressing events. EMDR can help the emotional regulation of survivors of physical or sexual assault, accidents, natural disasters, domestic violence/abuse, medical trauma, or other traumas.
EMDR is also effective for people who have a hard time articulating their feelings. It can often be very difficult to talk about past trauma, depressive thoughts, and negative experiences. Therefore, some report that EMDR is a "less stressful" form of therapy.
More recently, EMDR has shown promise in treating various anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobias. It can help individuals reduce anxiety-related symptoms and better manage their fears.
Other conditions that may be treated with EMDR include:
Depression: It may help individuals process and resolve underlying traumatic experiences or negative beliefs contributing to their depression.
Addiction Recovery: Some individuals struggling with substance abuse or addiction have experienced trauma that contributed to their addiction. EMDR can address the trauma aspect of addiction and complement addiction recovery programs.
Grief and Loss: People dealing with complicated grief or unresolved feelings of loss can benefit from EMDR therapy. It can help them process their emotions and find closure.
Performance Enhancement: EMDR is increasingly used in the field of sports psychology and performance enhancement. Athletes and performers may use EMDR to reduce performance anxiety, overcome mental blocks, and improve their focus.
Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence: Individuals with low self-esteem or self-confidence issues may benefit from EMDR by addressing past experiences or beliefs that contribute to these feelings.
**It's essential to note that EMDR therapy is not suitable for everyone or every situation. EMDR should only be administered by a trained and licensed therapist who specializes in this technique to ensure its effectiveness and safety. An experienced EMDR therapist will assess each individual's unique circumstances and determine whether EMDR is an appropriate treatment option.
How often do I have to do EMDR and how long will I need to continue this treatment?
It has been found that EMDR is most effective if you meet with your therapist at a minimum weekly while actively re-processing a traumatic event. Everyone will be different regarding how many sessions you'll need in each phase, depending on your individual response. At the onset of Mental Health Therapy treatment, I am happy to provide a personalized care plan recommendation.
How do I know if it is a good fit for me?
The decision to pursue EMDR therapy should be made in collaboration with your mental health therapist, taking into account your unique circumstances and treatment needs. EMDR can be highly effective for many individuals, but it is crucial to ensure that it is the right fit for your specific situation and goals.
For new patients interested in EMDR, I always start with a phone consult. That gives me a chance to introduce myself, tell you about my clinical philosophies and practice style, and determine if I am a good fit to help you. We will then schedule an in-person or Telehealth Mental Health Therapy session. The first few sessions will be a time to openly discuss your symptoms, experiences, and treatment goals. It is normal to feel a bit hesitant about reprocessing difficult memories, so we will ensure your readiness before transitioning into EMDR. We'll begin with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and talk therapy to establish a foundation of comfort and trust. Throughout your care, I will do my best to provide the pros and cons of each treatment modality to give you the most beneficial therapy experience.
Let's keep the conversation going.. Have you benefited from EMDR? Are there other questions you have? Let me know in the comments below!
“EMDR can be a very effective treatment for the right individual. It requires trust and comfort with your therapist as well as a strong willingness to work through the phases to completion.”
I believe that prioritizing your mental health is a daily practice. Need help putting yourself first? Reach out.
Kristen Milliron, LCSW sees patients in-person at The Facility in Denver, CO and is accepting new patients (Telehealth and In-person).
Learn more about Kristen's Therapy Style here.
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