What is EMDR Therapy?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of psychotherapy that treats emotional symptoms that follow trauma. American psychologist Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. developed the technique toward the end of the 1980s. Although this fact makes EMDR relatively new in psychology, studies consistently show that it is an effective way to treat several disorders.

Doctor Shapiro got the idea for the treatment when she noticed that specific eye movement made it easier for her to think about distressing things in her life. Intrigued by the concept, the psychologist studied the effects of eye movements on others as well. From the first clinical trial, Doctor Shapiro realized that even one EMDR session could dramatically change a patient’s response to traumatic memories.

In the decades since Doctor Shapiro’s first research into EMDR, experts have refined the technique to make it even more powerful for a variety of patients. Before a patient undergoes EMDR, therapists may require the following steps:

  • History and treatment planning: Throughout one or two sessions, the therapist learns about the patient’s history of trauma. Some patients answer the questions in great detail, but clients can also explain in vague terms. The counselor then designs a plan of action.
  • Preparation: This phase lasts between one and four sessions, depending on the client. Therapists teach clients a few tools to help them deal with cognitive disturbances that the trauma caused. The counselor also builds trust with the patient during this time.
  • Assessment: counselors use the Subjective Units of Disturbance (SUD) scale to determine how patients feel about themselves and the traumas they endured.

Once it’s time for patients to attend EMDR sessions, they can expect the following steps:

  • Desensitization: Therapists lead patients through negative thoughts and eye movements to help lessen the emotional reactions.
  • Installation: Counselors help patients replace the hurtful thoughts with positive ones.
  • Body Scan: Therapists bring up negative feelings once again and ask patients to identify any tension or physical symptoms.
  • Closure: Professionals check on patients to make sure they feel better than they did when they started the appointment and give clients things to work on before the next meeting. This stage always ends the session.
  • Reevaluation: At the start of each subsequent session, therapists check in with patients and they discuss anything new that came up since the previous session.

What can EMDR Treat?

EMDR can help anyone whose emotional disorder stems from troubling or traumatic events. People with any of the following disorders and more can benefit from EMDR therapy:

The most common disorder that EMDR patients live with is PTSD.” Extensive research has shown that patients with PTSD benefit from each EMDR treatment and can see a full resolution of symptoms. One meta-analysis of the effectiveness of EMDR for PTSD showed that patients see results faster than if they undergo trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy. Another study found that while several types of PTSD therapies work for patients, EMDR tends to work faster and patients tolerate it better than other options.

As thorough evidence suggests the EMDR can treat PTSD, other professionals have looked into how it can help for anxiety, agoraphobia, and panic attacks. One study found that EMDR can be just as effective for patients with panic disorder as cognitive behavioral therapy, which has long been the gold-standard of anxiety treatment.

As researchers continue to develop EMDR, patients may see it used to treat other disorders as well. For example, breaking research shows that it may help ease chronic pain when used alongside other treatments.

EMDR Therapy Side Effects

Every mental health treatment comes with the risk of some side effects or after effects. Doctors and mental health professionals do not prescribe any treatment plan unless they believe the potential benefits outweigh the risks.

Generally, EMDR patients experience fewer side effects than those who take medications. However, patients often experience emotional discomfort during the sessions. This is typical of any psychotherapy because just recalling a trauma can bring negative feelings on. Over time, patients have fewer reactions to these thinking about the trauma, as this is the goal of EMDR.

EMDR may also bring up memories, emotions, and physical sensations that patients and counselors cannot see coming. The treatment may bring up repressed memories or even cause tension in certain areas of the body. Patients sometimes feel tired after sessions or continue to have memories of the event.

Clinicians try to stop some of these side effects by checking in at the end of each session. Patients should always feel better when they leave then when they arrived at the appointment. If the side effects become too intense, counselors can try other psychotherapies that the patient may tolerate better. That’s why it’s vital for patients to be honest about their feelings.

If you or someone you love may benefit from EMDR therapy, find one of our Florida therapy clinics near you. Our expert clinicians can help.