Written By: Cristina Mardirossian
June 26, 2023

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, commonly called EMDR, is an alternative form of therapy often used for past trauma. While this therapy isn’t as old as some techniques, it has been becoming more popular as people talk about its benefits.

Rather than treating mental illness with medication or traditional therapy, EMDR works differently. Instead, a patient’s rhythmic and quick eye movements are used to help them recover from trauma of all kinds. For example, it’s commonly used with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) from experiences like vehicle accidents, physical assault, rape, or military combat.

EMDR was developed in 1989 by Francine Shapiro and is used by tens of thousands of professionals today. The inception of EMDR occurred when Shapiro was taking a walk and realized that quick movements of her eyes made negative emotions lessen. When used on patients, the same results occurred.

What to Expect When Receiving EMDR

The average EMDR session will last about 60 to 90 minutes and be facilitated by a trained therapist. You’ll share your health history, symptoms, details about your trauma, and important memories before the process begins. In addition, several techniques for coping with and managing mental or emotional stress will be shared with you.

Next, you’ll be guided through choosing the appropriate memory to target during EMDR. This includes digging into the important features of the memory, such as distressing self-beliefs, intrusive visions and thoughts, and painful emotional and physical sensations.

The treatment has four stages that help you address a targeted memory. These include the following:

  • Desensitization – This involves focusing on a memory, thought, or image while being guided through bilateral stimulation. This can entail making eye movements, audio noises, or tapping. The mind will go blank as you focus on thoughts that come up. After identifying these things, you’ll refocus on other memories until negative emotions are no longer an issue.
  • Installation – To replace the negative thoughts or emotions from the previous phase, you’ll let your mind focus on a positive one. This belief can be strengthened by going through another session of bilateral stimulation.
  • Body Scan – The therapist will ask if the memory you are working on causes any uncomfortable sensations or bodily pain. If the answer is yes, you’ll go through another round of bilateral stimulation.
  • Closure – Once the session is over, you’ll talk to the therapist about your progress. This person will also provide coping methods and relaxation options that can help you see further improvement in future sessions of EMDR.

Finally, the therapist will help you evaluate where you are now when you visit the next time. This includes discussing feelings and memories brought up in the last session.

If you still have uncomfortable feelings about a memory, you may target them again. You’ll move on to other memories if there are no longer any negative feelings.

How Does EMDR Help?

EMDR helps by having you make eye movements while thinking about a traumatic event as a way to help you eliminate painful memories. The bilateral stimulation used during EMDR gives you a point of focus as you think about unwanted thoughts and painful experiences from the past. Over time, this can make the memories less uncomfortable, so you can properly process them without intense mental discomfort.

Who Is EMDR Helpful For?

EMDR is very useful in working with “Big traumas” such as sexual assault, incest, rape, physical abuse, natural disasters, car accidents, etc. EMDR is also great for what is called “Little traumas”. Little traumas are events that are not necessarily considered major traumatic events, but they have caused a negative belief system and can disturb the quality of life. Examples of little traumas include things like being teased for your looks, being humiliated in public, etc. The little traumas can lead to seeing yourself in a negative light, which could cause difficulties in relationships and can get in your way of being successful.

Most individuals who choose EMDR are those who have several traumatic symptoms and memories stemming from PTSD. It is often used in situations where patients have difficulty sharing their trauma with others, including traditional therapists.

While there is only limited information indicating EMDR is helpful for other mental health issues, some professionals will recommend using it for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, panic attacks, and substance abuse disorders.

A review that came out in 2017 also shows evidence that EMDR might be helpful in individuals who struggle with anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, psychosis, substance use disorders, and pain in the lower back.

Where to Access Professional EMDR Services

Anyone interested in trying EMDR can contact the professionals at Pasadena Trauma Therapy, Inc. Our staff includes certified EMDR therapists who can help you break through painful memories to have a productive and happy life.

In addition to being an EMDR THERAPIST, we also have training in the following specialty EMDR protocols:

  • When There Are No Words: Reprocessing Early Trauma and Neglect In Implicit Memory With EMDR
  • Imaginal Nurturing, Ego States, and Attachment
  • The Feeling-State Addiction Protocol
  • EMDR 2.0
  • IFS informed EMDR
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