What Is EMDR Therapy?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy that helps process and heal emotional distress, past traumatic memories, and other adverse life experiences. EMDR was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro Ph.D. in the 1980s. As she studied Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), she determined that by mimicking the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep cycle associated with dreaming, her clients were able to work through difficult emotions. And once trauma was processed, they could transition into a more relaxed state.
As she experimented with moving her own eyes back and forth while thinking about a distressing memory, Dr. Shapiro found that the bilateral stimulation this created made her feel calmer. Rather than reexperiencing the emotionally charged feelings of distress that were associated with troubling memories, she could perceive them with objectivity, much like watching a movie. And so EMDR therapy was born.
How Does EMDR Therapy Work?
Traditional talk therapy helps us develop insight and understanding about what happened to us. Although this is an important component of self-discovery and acceptance, it doesn’t necessarily process or heal our trauma. Whereas talk therapy targets the prefrontal cortex of the brain, EMDR targets the amygdala and limbic system—the areas where trauma is stored—allowing us to transform painful memories into empowering ones.
EMDR therapy uses a structured protocol to help achieve the results you want. In the first phase of EMDR, you will work through an assessment process, outlining your personal history and life experiences to your therapist. Along the way, you will identify specific memories that feel distressing and determine whether you want to work through them with EMDR therapy.
Before embarking on deeper EMDR treatment that utilizes bilateral stimulation to neutralize distressful memories that have become stuck and highly charged, your therapist will ensure you’re well-prepared by spending time helping you regulate your body through grounding techniques such as breathwork and mindfulness. Depending upon the intensity of the memory, it may take one or more sessions of bilateral stimulation to desensitize the distressful memory. As you gain clarity and the memory no longer carries the same emotional charge, you will explore your internal resources, such as supportive and nurturing figures you can access to help improve your functioning moving forward.
Recovering from trauma requires persistence, proper support, and the patience to take your healing one day at a time. Healing more slowly is often preferable because the changes you make will be longer-lasting. While you may be concerned that revisiting your trauma will be challenging, by incorporating self-care and support into treatment you will have the foundation you need to work through it, leading to a sense of lightness and emotional freedom.
Who Can Benefit From EMDR Therapy?
EMDR is an effective treatment for anyone who feels ready to work through traumatic memories and distressing feelings, including anxiety or depression. We work with clients with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or acute stress disorder (ASD) resulting from physical abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse or assault, or exposure to war. Clients who suffer from addictions, dissociation, and relationship or anger problems can also benefit from EMDR therapy.
More than 30 studies have been conducted that demonstrate the efficacy of EMDR therapy.1 Several studies showed that 84-90 percent of single-trauma victims no longer had symptoms of PTSD after only three 90-minute sessions. In another study, 77 percent of combat veterans were free of PTSD symptoms within 12 sessions.2
In addition to utilizing EMDR treatment for trauma, we often incorporate Internal Family Systems (IFS), also known as “parts work” therapy. Most people have developed different parts of themselves, often as a means of self-protection when experiencing chronic trauma. Parts work helps clients manage and integrate these different parts of themselves, eventually bringing about a sense of peace and wholeness. Incorporating IFS with EMDR counseling helps support some of the more vulnerable parts of us, like our inner child, as we work through and heal our painful memories.
Why We Utilize EMDR Therapy For Trauma And PTSD
What makes EMDR therapy so effective is that your counselor will go at your own pace while providing you with a structured, evidence-based model for achieving results. Oftentimes, clients will begin counseling experiencing memories that carry a 10 out of 10 in emotional intensity. By the end of EMDR sessions, the intensity of these same memories may diminish to a 0 or 1 out of 10.
Road to Wellness founder, Janet (Bayramyan) Generales, has been incorporating EMDR into her therapy since 2017. She decided to study and become certified in this modality after her first-hand experience with EMDR therapy changed her life. Since then, she has worked with clients who have experienced various forms of trauma.
What every client has in common is their desire to find relief and to heal. Prior to EMDR, many of our clients told us although talk therapy had been beneficial in helping them understand intellectually that the trauma they experienced wasn’t their fault, they still couldn’t shake the persistent feeling of “Why did this happen to me?” Because EMDR treatment taps into the areas of the brain where PTSD symptoms and deeper emotions reside, EMDR allows you to finally process your trauma on a deeper level.
The brain is a highly intelligent organ that knows what it needs to restore balance and find neutrality after holding onto an emotional charge that no longer serves its purpose. We are continually amazed by the resilience of our clients who have been able to heal after experiencing trauma. It’s magical when, after eye movement therapy, we witness a client truly accept that what happened to them wasn’t their fault and that they did what they could in that moment.