Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a form of psychotherapy that is particularly effective for people that have experienced traumatic events. EMDR helps people address traumatic psychological wounds and the emotional distress that results from having experienced traumatic events.
Traumatic memories are often avoided. When we think of traumatic or disturbing events that occurred in our life it is natural to try to distract ourselves with something more pleasant. Avoidance of the disturbing memory may have the unintended consequence of perpetuating our emotional distress and anxiety. In EMDR the client and the therapist focus on distressing memories, visual images and physical sensations while simultaneously focusing on something else such as eye movements, hand tapping or a noise. This process helps to overcome the avoidance and helps process the traumatic memory in a new and more adaptive way. During EMDR the client may also learn a variety of strategies for emotion regulation, distress tolerance and stress management. Ideally, the client learns to think differently about the traumatic event and the grip that the trauma has held on their life is loosened.
In a typical EMDR session you will be asked to recall a disturbing memory in vivid detail. You will also be asked to describe the moods, thoughts, beliefs and physical sensations that are associated with this memory. You will also be asked to describe a series of positive thoughts or beliefs as well. You will be asked to focus on the visual details of the memory while attending to your physical sensations. This is done while there is bilateral stimulation – often sounds or tapping. This is done in short sequences and after each sequence of focusing on the traumatic memory and physical sensations you will be asked to let your mind rest and to describe your experience of focusing on the trauma. This process is repeated on multiple occasions during the session. The therapist is constantly attending to the level of emotional distress and helping to ground you.
Outcome studies have shown that EMDR is highly effective in alleviating the anxiety, avoidance and emotional distress associated with traumatic events. Research studies have shown that EMDR can work faster and more effectively than other forms of treatment. EMDR is recognized as an effective psychotherapy treatment by major health organizations including the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense.