Forms & Info
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What is EMDR?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a comprehensive psychotherapy based on a series of assumptions about the nature of trauma and its impact on the human experience, including its neurophysiology.
At its core, EMDR asserts, that within each person, there exists a physiological information processing system, which brings new experience and information to an adaptive state. All information, positive and negative, is stored in memory networks. Both traumatic events, which could occur at any point in the individual’s life, along with the memories of persistent unmet emotional needs during developmentally crucial times are stored in these networks.
Any and all of these distressing memories can block the natural adaptive processing mechanism, thereby freezing these events in time. This blockage can occur either when the disturbance is too large for the individual to process, or if it persists over time, and thus disallows the normal adaptive processing.
The “traumatic event” lives, therefore, undisturbed in the person’s brain, in its original form, generating negative beliefs and perceptions, and containing all the smells, sounds, feelings and sensations associated with it.
With successful EMDR treatment, the natural adaptive processes are resumed and the person moves on and through this memory or sets of memories. They still recall what has happened, but it is no longer upsetting, disturbing or negatively influencing their current life. The disturbing memories become part of their story, as opposed to the meaning of their story.
EMDR uses a three-pronged-protocol of past, present and future. This allows the client to proceed by first reducing the impact of the past, forging new positive links with the old disturbing memories, followed by clearing the current triggers and associations, that are affecting their present-day behaviors and sense of self. Finally, a future template is created where they can envision their life more fully.
When Do I Start Doing EMDR?
The time period between an initial session and the first processing EMDR session could vary a great deal, depending on the particular individual and the nature of their distress. For some clients, it is most appropriate to spend extended time creating a safe context, so that they can tolerate the increased emotional affect that could occur during an EMDR session.
In general, the more enduring the trauma, and the earlier that it occurred, the more preparation may be necessary. Whenever the client and the therapist determine that EMDR reprocessing is appropriate, they will begin.
How Many EMDR Sessions Are Needed?
There are vast differences in each individual’s trauma history. Some people may have experienced a single incident trauma (e.g. an automobile accident) while others have several events or a long term history of trauma as is the case in abuse or neglect. An EMDR session with single incident trauma may be completed in as few as 5 sessions (with 2-3 EMDR 90 minute therapy sessions), while EMDR with clients who have a more complex trauma history may take longer.
What is an EMDR Session Like?
In general, an EMDR session begins with an assessment of a particular disturbing memory or incident. The client is asked to bring to mind the disturbing issue or event, and indicate what is seen, felt, heard, thought, etc., as well as what thoughts, beliefs and feelings they currently hold about themselves.
When the assessment is complete, the therapist facilitates the directional movement of the eyes or other bilateral stimulation, while the client focuses on the disturbing material. The client is instructed to just notice what comes up during that process and report briefly about it to the therapist in between sets. There will be little to no attempt to manage the material; the client will be just directed to “notice it.”
Although each person experiences the material differently (e.g. some have more visions and memories, while others tend to have more bodily experiences), in general the movement is in a positive direction. The memory becomes less disturbing and may become increasingly more associated with positive thoughts and self-beliefs.
Effectiveness of EMDR
Approximately 20 controlled studies have investigated the effects of EMDR and have consistently demonstrated that use of EMDR effectively eliminates/decreases the symptoms of post traumatic stress (PTSD) for the majority of clients.
There are also reports of significant improvement in other disturbances, although, there is not sufficient research in those areas to warrant the same level of claims of efficacy. However, many clinicians report success in treating the following areas of disturbance:
- Eating disorders
- Panic attacks
- Complicated grief
- Dissociative disorders
- Pain disorders
- Performance anxiety
- Sexual and or physical abuse
*The recognition of the efficacy of EMDR in PTSD is demonstrated by the following endorsements: in 1998, independent reviewers for the APA Division of Clinical Psychology placed EMDR, exposure therapy, and stress inoculation therapy on a list of empirically supported treatments as “probably efficacious” ; no other therapies for any form of PTSD were judged to be empirically supported by controlled research. In 2000, after the examination of additional published controlled studies, the treatment guidelines of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies gave EMDR an A/B rating and EMDR was found efficacious for PTSD.