Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of psychotherapy developed to treat trauma; however, it has been successful in treating a variety of emotional and mental health concerns. EMDR is a specialized treatment provided by practitioners who have received more than 40 hours of training. This type of treatment is different than more traditional talk therapy as it uses bilateral stimulation to access and reprocess traumatic memories with very little conversation. Bilateral stimulation is the use of visual, auditory or tactile stimuli in an alternating left-right pattern (EMDR Institute, 2020). There are different types of bilateral stimulation used for EMDR. Many therapists will have you follow their fingers back and forth with your eyes or they may use a light bar. Other therapists may use devices you hold in your hands that pulsate or they use their fingers to tap the top of your hands or knees. Some use headphones to produce a beeping or noise alternating from ear to ear. It is likely the EMDR therapist you see will use multiple techniques and will help you find what type you respond best to
EMDR can be confusing and intimidating because it is different from the typical idea of counseling. I explain EMDR to my clients like this, “You know when you think about something uncomfortable that has happened to you and as you think of it, you physically feel all of those emotions again, almost like you are reliving the experience? EMDR can help alleviate that sensation. EMDR will not take your memories away, it will not make you forget, but it will help you to not feel them so intensely. It is like you almost have to remind yourself how you felt in that moment.” EMDR helps reduce the intensity of the emotions by assisting clients in replacing negative thoughts and feelings with more positive ones. When painful experiences are associated with more positive thoughts and feelings, we are better equipped to regulate our responses to triggering situations. This leads to healthier behaviors and interpersonal relationships.
Each EMDR session is individualized to meet the client’s needs but EMDR does follow a basic format. The therapist will begin by gathering a trauma history, developing a treatment plan and further explaining the EMDR process. In a typical session, the therapist will ask the client to focus on a target memory and identify a negative belief associated with this event and then identify a positive belief they would prefer to believe when they think about the memory or event. The therapist will begin the bilateral stimulation as the client focuses on the identified event. The session will continue with sets of bilateral stimulation and after each set, the therapist will guide the client in noticing what comes to mind. This process continues until the event becomes less disturbing (EMDRIA, 2018). This format may look different if the client is processing a recent event or preparing for a future event.
EMDR can be integrated into mental health treatment several different ways. It can be done as the primary treatment; it can be in combination with other traditional mental health treatments and EMDR can be an adjunctive therapy with a separate therapist if your current therapist is not trained in EMDR. EMDR treatment begins by talking with your therapist to determine if it is a good fit for you. (EMDRIA, 2018).
EMDR Institute, Inc. (2020). What is EMDR? https://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/
EMDR International Association EMDRIA (2018).
What is EMDR therapy? https://www.emdria.org/page/what_is_emdr_therapyTags: EMDR, EMDR therapy, trauma therapy
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Erica graduated with a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in August 2014 and completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2007. Erica did her internship at the Wholeness Healing Center, prior to joining the team full time in August of 2014. She works out of both the Grand Island and Kearney offices.
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