Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a mental health therapy that’s gaining much attention in the industry. It’s known for its role in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but EMDR therapy in Scottsdale is expanding to include treating other conditions.
Discover more about EMDR, what it can treat, and how it works.
What Is EMDR?
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, known as EMDR, is an interactive psychotherapy technique that can be used to relieve psychological stress.
According to the approach’s theory, traumatic memories can lead to post-traumatic stress or other conditions when they’re not processed completely. Triggers, such as sights, sounds, words, or smells, can cause you to re-experience them with emotional distress.
EMDR reduces trauma symptoms by changing how memories are stored in the brain by leading the patient through a series of bilateral eye movements as you recall traumatic experiences. These are done in small sessions until they’re no longer distressing.
The process includes about 12 sessions with a trained psychologist:
History and Treatment Planning
The first session focuses on the patient’s specific reason for considering EMDR and takes a detailed history. The evaluation phase involves briefly discussing the trauma, even vaguely, and identifying the memories to address.
The psychologist speaks to the patient about the EMDR process and goals. Patients also learn relaxation techniques to calm themselves during or after sessions.
The psychologist will ask the patient to select a vivid image of a traumatic memory they want to work on. The patient will be asked to focus on the negative beliefs or emotions associated with the event or themselves.
The patient will be asked to hold a traumatic memory in their mind and follow the movements of the psychologist’s finger back and forth with just their eyes. The psychologist may also lead by tapping their knees in an alternating pattern as an alternative to eye movements, which still engage the same parts of the brain.
The patient is guided to replace the original negative belief with more positive ones. The idea is to “install” a positive self-belief or image in place of negative thoughts.
The patient thinks of the original memory to see if there’s any residual tension. Once the memory no longer causes the patient distress, the treatment is complete. If the traumatic memory still has negative responses, the installation session is repeated until the response has improved.
The closure is the end of the session. If the memory hasn’t been reduced in intensity, the psychologist will guide the patient in relaxation exercises to complete in between sessions.
At the start of the next session, the psychologist and client can assess the previous session’s work and plan for the rest of the treatment.
Part of the process is check-ins between sessions. Once the treatment is complete and the patient shows no trauma response to a disturbing event, the psychologist will discuss future challenges to see the response.
For example, if a patient had been in a severe car accident, they may be asked to imagine driving in similar conditions to see if distressing emotions arise. If they do, the patient may need more treatment.
What Can EMDR Treat?
EMDR is highly recommended for post-traumatic stress disorder and overwhelming traumatic memories. This is especially helpful for people who have trouble sharing the details of traumatic events with others to work through them. EMDR allows these patients to think of the trauma independently rather than discussing painful, embarrassing, or uncomfortable details.
Though EMDR arose as a treatment for trauma, there’s limited evidence suggesting that it helps other mental health conditions. These include:
- Eating disorders
- Panic attacks
- Substance use disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Low back pain
How Effective Is EMDR Therapy?
EMDR may not seem like it’s capable of treating the severe response to trauma seen in post-traumatic stress disorder. Experts aren’t entirely sure why it works; the theory is that people recall painful events with less emotional upset when they focus on something else – such as the bilateral stimulation with EMDR.
Over time, this reduces the intensity, so your brain can process the trauma without an overwhelming psychological response.
EMDR was first introduced in 1987. Since then, there have been several studies indicating its effectiveness. Some of the results showed that EMDR can:
- Relieve emotional distress after adverse experiences
- Ease somatic symptoms like pain or muscle tension
Furthermore, 32% of people who receive inpatient care for depression found EMDR therapy promising. 68% of the patients receiving EMDR showed full remission and improved symptoms overall.
With PTSD, a small study indicated that of the 18 participants who received EMDR in group therapy intervention, 61% no longer met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis afterward.
For panic disorder, 84% of people found that EMDR was just as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Studies suggest that EMDR can treat a single instance of trauma in children.
Find EMDR Therapy in Scottsdale
At Healing Foundations Center, we offer EMDR and other innovative therapeutic modalities to help patients with trauma or mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. No matter what you’re facing, we’ll work with you and support you in your path to healing. Contact us to schedule your consultation.