What is EMDR Therapy?
EMDR therapy has many benefits, especially for those who struggle to talk about their trauma.
The idea of facing trauma can seem overwhelming and scary. The truth is, a big part of healing from an addiction is to heal from the trauma that may have contributed to it in the first place. EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing can provide the means to heal from trauma and move forwards in a healthy recovery from addiction.
Read on to learn all about what EMDR therapy is and how it works. Discover the many benefits this therapy has to offer, and take a look at just how effective it’s been in treating the symptoms of trauma.
What is EMDR therapy?
EMDR therapy is a form of psychotherapy used to alleviate symptoms of trauma. The purpose of EMDR therapy is to help release the emotional distress and symptoms developed due to a traumatic experience.
EMDR itself stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR therapy was developed in 1987. It was initially used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. This form of therapy is conducted one-on-one, either once or twice per week. Typically, a person will undertake anything from 6 - 12 sessions.
How does EMDR therapy work?
The foundation of EMDR is based on the Adaptive Information Processing model. This model states that distressing symptoms of trauma and other disorders that are rooted in a past experience only continue to cause distress when left unprocessed.
This essentially means that if you endure a traumatic experience and do not work through it, your body may internalise the thoughts, emotions, and even physical sensations associated with the experience. If something triggers you down the road, those same thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations will reocurr. If you experienced a traumatic event, this can cause you to develop symptoms of PTSD and experience other distressing emotions.
Many forms of therapy used to treat trauma focus on changing the thoughts and responses associated with a traumatic event. However, EMDR approaches trauma differently. EMDR tackles the memory of the traumatic experience. It works to shift how that memory is processed and stored in the brain. When the way the memory is stored in the brain has changed, the resulting symptoms change as well.
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing tackles the memory by using eye movements (bilateral stimulation) while recounting the memory. When you recount a traumatic memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation, the vividness of the memory becomes reduced. This, therefore, reduces the painful emotions and distressing symptoms associated with the traumatic event.
What does EMDR therapy look like?
As previously mentioned, EMDR therapy sessions are typically conducted one time to two times per week. The number of sessions needed will vary based on each client, the nature of the trauma they’ve experienced, and whether it’s acute or complex. Overall, treatment can range from anywhere between 6 to 12 sessions.
EMDR is a structured form of therapy that moves in 8 phases as listed below:
Phase 1: History-taking and treatment planning
In this phase, the therapist will review your presenting symptoms and go over your health history. They will also gather information regarding your past and what event or events you would like to focus on during the treatment. Additionally, they will discuss what your goals for treatment are.
Phase 2: Preparation
In the preparation phase, the therapist will explain to you what you can expect during the EMDR sessions. They will provide you with tools to regulate your emotions, such as deep breathing or mindfulness exercises. These tools will help in case you experience emotional or mental discomfort during the sessions.
Phase 3: Assessment
In this phase, the therapist guides you in selecting memories you want to focus on during reprocessing. The therapist will also inquire about any negative feelings, intrusive thoughts, limiting beliefs, or physical sensations you may have that are associated with those memories.
Phase 4: Desensitization
Phases 4 - 7 are the actual treatment sessions. In the desensitization phase, you will focus on the memory while the therapist guides you in bilateral eye movements. This simply means you will be moving your eyes from left to right, following the therapist’s cues. You will then allow your mind to go blank, and draw your awareness to any thoughts and feelings that come up. The therapist may continue this process with this memory if it still triggers distressing emotions or thoughts. However, if you have become desensitized to the memory, the therapist will move on to the next memory.
Phase 5: Installation
During this phase, the therapist will have you focus on a new positive belief you would like to “install” to associate with the memory.
Phase 6: Body-scan
In this phase, the therapist will ask you to notice how you feel within your body, and to observe the sensations you experience when thinking about your traumatic memory. This happens after each session to help assess the effeciency of the EMDR. By the end of a successful treatment, you shouldn't feel any discomfort within your body when recounting the memory.
Phase 7: Closure
At the very end of each individual session, the therapist will go over your progress with you and ensure you feel safe and grounded. They may provide you with relaxation techniques to use at home in between sessions to maintain your progress.
Phase 8: Re-evaluation
Re-evaluation will happen at the beginning of the next session. The therapist will ask you how you’ve been feeling since the previous session. They’ll ask you if you’ve experienced negative thoughts or emotional discomfort when recounting your traumatic memory. If the memories have continued to cause distress between sessions, the therapist will continue to target them. If not, the therapist will move onto the next memory.
What can EMDR therapy treat?
EMDR therapy is primarily used to treat PTSD and symptoms of trauma. However, many studies have been conducted since EMDR was developed that show promise of its ability to treat additional conditions.
According to The Cleveland Clinic, EMDR has been used by professionals to treat the following conditions:
- Obsessive-compulsive disorders
- Body dysmorphic disorder
- Anxiety disorders, including social anxiety
- Depression disorders (major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and illness-related depression)
- Eating disorders
- Dissociative disorders
- Trauma disorders
Further research suggests that EMDR therapy may be used to help treat those struggling with:
- Substance use disorders
- Lower back pain
- Panic attacks
- Bipolar disorder
Additionally, a review conducted in 2020 found that EMDR therapy may be helpful in treating psychosis. The review of six studies found that participants experienced decreased hallucinations, fewer delusions, and a decrease in negative symptoms after undergoing EMDR therapy sessions.
Why is treating trauma important in addiction recovery?
Treating trauma is incredibly important when it comes to addiction recovery. This is because trauma may have contributed to the development of an addiction in many people who suffer.
When you have an unhealed trauma, it affects your emotional regulation, causes a dysfunctional stress response. This can lead to anxiety and depression, which can fuel addiction.
When trauma is treated in recovery from addiction, it provides a solid foundation for the rest of your journey. Treating trauma can help facilitate a long-lasting, healthy recovery from addiction.
Is EMDR therapy effective?
Although EMDR therapy is newer compared to other forms of therapy, many studies have demonstrated its effectiveness.
In 2018, a study conducted on 18 Syrian refugees with PTSD demonstrated that EMDR therapy helped over 61% of participants, who reported experiencing no symptoms of PTSD afterward. Some participants also reported a decrease in symptoms of depression.
In 2015, a study conducted on 32 people receiving inpatient treatment for depression demonstrated that 68% of participants receiving EMDR therapy reported full remission after treatment. In a follow-up conducted over a year later, the participants reported experiencing fewer depression-related concerns.
Another study found that 100% of single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer had symptoms of PTSD after completing six sessions of EMDR therapy. A separate study found that 77% of combat veterans showed no symptoms of PTSD after 12 sessions of EMDR therapy.
These studies indicate that Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing may indeed be a very powerful form of therapy in treating trauma-related disorders.
What are the benefits of EMDR therapy?
There appear to be many benefits of using EMDR therapy:
One of the primary benefits of EMDR therapy is that it appears to be very effective. Many studies conducted over the past four decades since EMDR’s inception have demonstrated its effectiveness in alleviating distressing symptoms associated with trauma.
It works fast
Many people explore EMDR therapy due to how brief the process is when compared to other forms of therapy. Whereas other forms of therapy may take many months or even a year to work through trauma, some people have been able to experience healing after just a few EMDR sessions.
It’s a great option for those who struggle to talk about their trauma
It’s incredibly difficult to remember a traumatic experience, let alone talk about it with someone else. EMDR can be a great option for those who struggle to discuss their trauma with a therapist. Many forms of therapy can require an individual to relive their trauma, discussing memories in detail that can feel overwhelming. With EMDR therapy, small segments of memories are recounted while engaging in bilateral movements. Although some talking is done, most of the processing is happening internally.
It can feel less overwhelming
Because most of the processing is done internally with EMDR therapy, one of the benefits of it is that it may feel less overwhelming than other forms of therapy. If someone feels stressed out when engaging in other forms of therapy and reliving their traumatic experiences, EMDR may be a better, less stress-inducing option.
It can help foster self-empowerment
EMDR therapy can help people empower themselves. This is because EMDR therapy innately helps people reframe a traumatic experience when the memory gets reprocessed.
In traditional therapy, a client may gain insight from the interpretation of their therapist. However, with EMDR therapy, a client’s own emotional and intellectual processing becomes accelerated, so that they can develop their own supportive, helpful insights. An example of this would be if someone grew up in an abusive household, and after undergoing EMDR therapy, they were able to reframe their experience from a place of empowerment and claim, “I survived that experience. It made me who I am and I am more resilient, strong, and compassionate because of it.”
What are the risks of EMDR therapy?
EMDR is considered to be a safe and effective form of therapy and should be performed by an EMDR-trained therapist. An EMDR-trained therapist will be able to properly prepare a client for their sessions by gaining a comprehensive understanding of their history. The therapist will also prepare the client, and share with the client what they can expect during and after the sessions.
Some side effects that may arise during EMDR therapy include:
- heightened emotional sensitivity
- old memories coming up
- vivid dreams
- feeling tired post-session
- feeling uncomfortable during a session
Although there may be discomfort during or in-between sessions, it can be worth exploring EMDR therapy if it means experiencing a life of mental and emotional freedom.
What to do next
Talk to your healthcare provider, counsellor, or therapist if you’re interested in pursuing EMDR therapy. They may be able to refer you to an EMDR-trained therapist in your area.
If you aren’t currently in therapy or counselling, there are many online directories that can help you find an EMDR-trained therapist, such as the following:
EMDR therapy has a myriad of benefits, and can help you work through painful traumas to experience real, deep and profound healing.
Author - Thurga
- What is EMDR? https://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/
- Dangers of EMDR Therapy: Side Effects, Myths, & Misconceptions: https://www.choosingtherapy.com/dangers-of-emdr-therapy/
- EMDR association https://emdrassociation.org.uk
- What is EMDR? Types of therapy: https://www.bacp.co.uk/about-therapy/types-of-therapy/eye-movement-desensitisation-and-reprocessing-emdr/