What EMDR Therapy Actually Does (and How It Can Help You)

EMDR therapy has been getting a lot of attention lately. It differs from traditional treatments, such as psychotherapy, and therapists have been practicing it only since the 1980s.

Its results speak volumes, however. As a leading treatment for PTSD and trauma-related problems, EMDR can effectively desensitize the emotional charge of traumatic memories and reprocess how they’re stored in the mind and body.

EMDR isn’t suitable for everyone or every mental health condition, however. Here’s what you should know.

What Is EMDR?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories.1 This therapy seeks to access and process traumatic memories and find resolution.

EMDR can relieve distress, reformulate negative beliefs, and lower physiological arousal with successful treatment. Repeated studies show that using EMDR therapy can help people experience the benefits of psychotherapy over a shorter period.2

Typically, EMDR is an eight-phase treatment. The clinician determines the memory to target first, then asks the patient to keep the event or thought in mind while tracking the clinician’s hand movements with their eyes.

The eight phases include:

  1.  Getting a past history of experiences
  2. Preparing to work through negative experiences
  3. Determining the important memories to work through
  4. Processing old memories
  5. Implementing positive beliefs
  6. Working through physical symptoms
  7. Developing a sense of closure from past negative memories
  8. Reevaluating session to ensure processing was successful

Internal associations arise, and patients begin to process the memory and associated upsetting feelings through similar mechanisms as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The patient reprocesses painful experiences on an emotional level, not through the clinician’s interpretation. They feel empowered from memories that were once debilitating.

What Is EMDR Used For?

EMDR therapy is often used to treat PTSD and trauma-related conditions, but it’s expanding to include other mental health conditions. Anxiety conditions, such as phobias and panic attacks, are now included in the scope of EMDR therapy.

It can also treat depression. In some cases, depression arises from other problems, and EMDR can help people work through those problems.

Here are some examples of conditions or situations EMDR can help:3

  • PTSD and trauma
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain
  • Complex trauma
  • Childhood trauma
  • Grief
  • Eating disorders
  • Phobias and fears

Most importantly, EMDR can succeed where other therapies fail. Traditional therapies like psychotherapy may not work for everyone, and EMDR is unique in that there isn’t a lot of verbal processing. It activates your body’s healing mechanisms so that you can process things on your own.

This can be helpful for trauma or situations that you don’t feel comfortable discussing. You don’t need to share painful details – instead, allow your body to work through it independently.

Does EMDR Therapy Have Risks?

EMDR therapy is a safe form of treatment, but it can have possible side effects. The therapy focuses on reliving past traumatic memories or negative experiences to reframe them, which may cause some emotional or physical discomfort. This is typically brief, however.

Remember that reliving trauma isn’t intended to re-traumatize or overwhelm you – it’s merely discomforting. It’s essential to speak with your clinician about the difference between discomfort and emotional overwhelm.

Because EMDR brings up old memories, it’s common for people to experience unusual dreams following their therapy sessions.

Is EMDR Right for Me?

EMDR can be effective, but it’s not easy. It takes emotional work, and it’s ideal for people who can tolerate their emotional responses.

If you feel overwhelmed by emotions or tend to “shut down” during emotional periods, you may not be ready for the work you need to do in EMDR. The success of the treatment depends on your ability to process emotions and thoughts in your mind and body, which won’t be effective if you shut out your feelings.

This doesn’t mean EMDR is off the table entirely, however. You may need to do some prep work to get the most out of the therapy. You can speak to your regular therapist or provider to learn more about preparing for EMDR therapy.

EMDR at Healing Foundations Center

EMDR therapy is an integrative approach that can be effective for trauma-related conditions and other mental health conditions. If you’re considering EMDR therapy, Healing Foundations Center offers qualified, experienced clinicians. Contact us today to learn more about our EMDR therapy in Scottsdale, AZ.

[1] https://emdrfoundation.org/emdr-info/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3951033/
[3] https://www.emdria.org/about-emdr-therapy/