Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, typically called EMDR, is an integrative psychotherapy regimen. EMDR has been researched and is considered effective in the treatment of trauma.

EMDR utilized standardized protocols. These protocols incorporate elements utilized in different treatment modalities.

EMDR should only be offered via properly licensed and appropriately trained mental health care professionals. So-called do-it-yourself approaches to EMDR are not condoned or medically acceptable.

Types of Mental Health Issues Addressed by EMDR

The most common types of mental health disorders that are addressed using EMDR are:

  • Panic Attacks
  • Complicated Grief,
  • Dissociative Disorders
  • Disturbing Memories
  • Phobias, Pain Disorders
  • Performance Anxiety
  • Stress Reduction
  • Addictions
  • Sexual and/or Physical Abuse
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorders
  • Personality Disorders

The Development of EMDR

EMDR began with an observation made by psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro. In 1987, she made the chance observation that certain eye movements are capable of reducing the intensity of disturbing thoughts. This can occur under specific sets of circumstances.

Two years later, and after using EMDR to treat victims of trauma, Dr. Shapiro reported her professional findings in the Journal of Traumatic Stress. Since that time, EMDR has evolved further through contributions made by a growing number of other researchers and therapists from around the globe.

How EMDR Works

When considering how EMDR works, it is important to note that one, including researchers, understands how any form of psychotherapy works either neurobiologically or within the brain. What researchers and others do know is that when a person is involved in a traumatic event, the brain cannot process information in a normal manner.

Remembering a traumatic situation can end up feeling as horrible as when it was experienced the first time. This is because the situation is “frozen in time.” A person faces the same images, smells, sounds, and feelings associated with the initial traumatic experience. These sharp memories have a truly lasting impact. These memories interfere with the way an individual views or sees the world and in the manner in which he or she relates to other individuals.

EMDR appears to have a direct effect on the manner in which a person’s brain processes information. When EMDR is utilized, it appears to cause a resumption of the normal processing of information. A person who utilizes EMDR no longer relives the highly troubling or impactful images, smells, sounds, and feelings.

In the aftermath of EMDR treatment, a person will still remember the traumatic situation. However, that situation becomes far less upsetting.

Some researchers have concluded that EMDR is similar to what happens naturally when people dream. This technique is known as REM or rapid eye movement sleep. In short, many researchers have come to consider EMDR to be a “physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way.”

Length of EDMR Treatment

The length of EMDR treatment depends on a number of factors. At the outset, a couple of sessions are necessary for a therapist to understand the problem faced by a patient. These initial sessions are needed to ascertain of EMDR is an appropriate course of treatment in the first instance. Once the determination is made that EMDR is appropriate, that treatment process commences.

A patient’s specific circumstances, coupled with the nature and extent of prior trauma, dictates how many treatment sessions may be required. In addition, individual patients respond differently to EDMR treatment. Some respond more quickly than do others.

A Look at Actual EDMR Treatment

In considering what actual EDMR treatment looks like, you need to understand that there are eight phases of EDMR treatment.

Phase One: History and Treatment Planning

As is the case with other types of therapy regimens, the first phase of EMDR treatment involves taking a thorough history of the patient and developing an overall treatment plan. More often than not, this phase lasts not more than a couple of sessions

Phase Two: Preparation

A primary objective of the preparation phase is to develop a sense of trust between a client and therapist. Techniques are discussed to deal with disturbing memories that will come up through EMDR therapy. Client self cares relaxation techniques are also a part of this phase. For most people undergoing EMDR therapy, this phase lasts from one to four sessions.

Phase Three: Assessment

The assessment phase essentially involves developing a structure through which traumatic memories can be evaluated. This includes strategies to address beliefs which a client intellectually understands to be false, at least on some level. The assessment phase and the development of an evaluation structure permits a therapist and client the ability to assess progress as EMDR therapy moves onward.

Phase Four: Desensitization

The focus of this phase is on a client’s disturbing emotions and sensations. This phase addresses all of a client’s responses – memories, insights, and associations. It is during this phase that a therapist leads a client in certain sets of eye movements.

Phase Five: Installation

The fundamental objective of the installation phase is described as is “to concentrate on and increase the strength of the positive belief that the person has identified to replace his original negative belief.” In very basic, simplistic terms, new, positive beliefs replace traumatic memories.

Phase Six: Body Scan

Following the “installation” of positive beliefs (positive cognition), the therapist asks the client to bring the once-traumatic memory to mind. When this is one, the client is asked to see if he or she notices any residual tension in the body. If there is some residual tension, that is targeted for “reprocessing,” which represents repeating elements of prior phases.

Phase Seven: Closure

The closure is something that occurs at the end of every individual session. It is designed to ensure that a person departs a session feeling better than at the beginning.

Phase Eight: Reevaluation

Reevaluation begins every session. This process is a review of the prior session. Revaluation is also designed to ascertain if the positive results from the prior session have been maintained. Reevaluation is also used to identify new areas that need treatment.