How EMDR Therapy Works—And Is It Right For You?

Saturday, February 12, 2022

     Talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy are usually the most common things that people think about when you bring up the subject of therapy. But there are many forms of therapy out there that can offer more tailored results based on what mental health condition you’re looking to treat.

     We’ll be focusing on EMDR, a more recent form of treatment that focuses on PTSD and emotional trauma as a whole, which has proven to lead individuals with debilitating trauma to manage their symptoms and lead fuller lives. However, it may not be suitable for everyone. Here’s an insight into what you can expect if you consider the EMDR route with your mental health treatment.

How EMDR Therapy Works—And Is It Right For You?
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What Is EMDR Therapy?

     EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It’s an interactive therapeutic approach that helps people process painful memories that, when triggered, cause you to re-experience your trauma if not processed correctly.

     With EMDR, you’ll work to change the way traumatic memories are stored in the brain, and as a result, reduce your symptoms. Long story short, you’ll recall triggering memories while a therapist simultaneously guides you through the side-to-side eye movements in small segments. This is done until eventually, the memories are no longer triggering.

     While it is primarily associated with treating trauma-based conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, EMDR therapy can also be beneficial to mental disorders.

How Does It Work?

     EMDR therapy typically is done in about 6-12 sessions but may require more depending on your unique needs. The overall treatment process is divided into eight distinct phases, at the end of which you should feel relief in recounting previously distressing memories. Below is a brief overview of each stage for your reference.

Phase 1: Your therapist will evaluate your symptoms to develop a treatment plan.

Phase 2: You’ll learn about different coping mechanisms to manage psychological distress that may arise during treatment.

Phase 3: You and your therapist will work together to select a specific memory, including any intrusive thoughts or physical sensations that come with it.

Phase 4-7: This is the treatment phase, where you’ll undergo four different EMDR therapy techniques, including:
  • Desensitization
  • Installation
  • Body Scan
  • Closure

Phase 8: The last phase is the re-evaluation phase, in which your therapist will ask if the experiences you’ve spent time working on have improved. If so, they may suggest targeting other traumatic memories.

Side Effects

     EMDR therapy is a safe form of treatment with results that come with fewer adverse side effects than prescription medication or the trauma symptoms themselves. Unlike medicine, EMDR’s results will likely continue to thrive even after ending treatment.

     Still, because it can exercise the psyche in ways other forms of therapy cannot, it may be accompanied by peculiar side effects. However, these side effects will usually let up as your treatment progresses and should be brought up to your therapist as they occur.

Some of the side effects that are possible are:
  • Vivid dreams
  • New, previously repressed traumatic memories
  • Heightened states of emotion or physical sensations in the middle of sessions
  • Feeling lightheaded

The Research

     Various studies have been conducted that study the effectiveness of EMDR therapy on several mental health conditions.

     For example, one study conducted in 2018 investigated the benefits of EMDR in 18 Syrian refugees with PTSD, where 61% of them no longer met the criteria for the disorder following EMDR intervention.

     In 2020 review of six studies also notes that EMDR was also effective in treating psychosis, with participants reporting a decrease in delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia, leading them to decrease their medication usage. While it shows promise, more research is needed in the particular area.

     There’s also great potential in its effectiveness for treating trauma in children and for depression and panic disorder.

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