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Can EMDR Help With All Mental Health Conditions?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an unusual but rapidly growing form of therapy. It has a well-justified reputation for effective treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related issues. Considering that 70 percent of U.S. adults will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime, EMDR’s stellar record is obviously welcome. However, this unique modality can help people with many other mental health conditions.

In the name of guiding people in need to seek out this powerful, short-term option, let’s take a look at some of the conditions that can be addressed by EMDR and precisely how it does what it does.

Can EMDR Help With All Mental Health Conditions?

Needless to say, it’s dodgy to say any treatment approach can help with all conditions. Plus, of course, every person and situation is different. Even so, we can definitely point to a long list of disorders and symptoms (aside from trauma) for which EMDR has been found to provide positive effects. These include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety, social anxiety, and panic disorders
  • Performance anxiety
  • Excessive worry
  • Low self-esteem and motivation
  • Apathy
  • Chronic illnesses
  • Hallucinations
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Delusions
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Disordered eating
  • Chronic pain (including low back pain)
  • Personality disorders
  • Gender dysphoria
  • Addictions
  • Triggers and cravings
  • Complicated grief
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Psychosis
  • Thoughts of self-harm

close up photo of a woman's blue eyesThis introductory list will probably pique your interest. But to better determine if EMDR is right for you, it helps to know more about how it works. While EMDR is technically considered a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), it is unlike what most people imagine therapy to look and feel like. As with any approach, it starts with a getting-to-know-you session, but then it takes some unexpected turns.

EMDR Therapy Basics

You and your therapist will discuss possible thoughts or memories to focus on. If the overarching problem is anxiety, your focus might involve an event in which you felt nervous, embarrassed, or extremely worried. You concentrate intently on these thoughts while the EMDR therapist moves their hands and fingers in front of your face. Your task is to follow these movements by rapidly moving your eyes from side to side.

This combination induces a state of mind that stimulates both brain hemispheres. In this state — similar to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep — you can recall distressing experiences without being triggered. Thus, you can better process and resolve the discomfort and replace those sensations with a positive memory, goal, or affirmation.

In relatively few sessions, you will find yourself more easily viewing situations as less daunting or challenging. These sessions encompass eight phases.

The 8 Phases of EMDR

  • Phase 1: As touched on above, treatment begins by taking a history and choosing a focus.
  • Phase 2: Because you will be addressing uncomfortable scenarios, some stress reduction skills are introduced and refined.
  • Phases 3-6: This is where and when the hand and eye movements take place. The client will keep track of what thoughts and bodily sensations are associated with the focus of the sessions.
  • Phase 7: Self-monitoring is a crucial component so, the client will keep a journal to track progress, triggers, etc.
  • Phase 8: As the EMDR treatment moves toward resolution, the client and therapist discuss what has transpired (using the client started in phase 7) and evaluate what else needs to be done.

It’s important to note that EMDR relieves the client from the type of side effects that typically arise from medications. Outside of minimal light-headedness and/or an increase in vivid dreams, the EMDR process will not bring about a side effect burden.

These are the EMDR fundamentals. To learn more, we invite you to contact us for EMDR therapy.

abstract image of a brain against a purple background

How Does EMDR Work In The Brain?

If someone were to tell you that they were going to therapy, you’d likely picture meaningful discussions in an office. That is often the case but therapy is far more diverse than that. For example, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) incorporates hand and finger movements by the therapist with eye movements performed by the client.

This unusual but highly effective method is used to treat a broad spectrum of issues and disorders — post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), disordered eating, and more. EMDR requires relatively few sessions and has long-lasting positive effects. But, you might be wondering, how do hand and eye movements do all that?

How Does EMDR Work?

Let’s first break down the basic framework in a nutshell. The hand, finger, and eye movements are found to include a state that is similar to REM sleep. In this state, the person can access negative memories, patterns, and thoughts without getting triggered. It is as if they are slightly dissociated from sensations that they’d typically avoid. A detached connection to distressing emotions sets the stage for those memories to be processed and then replaced with positive imagery and ideas.

But what’s going on in your brain

How Does EMDR Work In The Brain?

Research has consistently shown EMDR to work. As for the specifics of what it does in the brain to make this happen, it has not been fully pinpointed. However, the concept of “bilateral stimulation” seems to be the entry point. Some crucial points to consider:

  • In a typical setting, the left side of your brain is designed to soothe the right side during and after a bad or traumatic experience. If this doesn’t happen, distorted thought patterns happen.
  • When an EMDR therapist has you follow their rapid finger movements with your eyes, both hemispheres of your brain are stimulated. This is called bilateral stimulation.
  • Bilateral stimulation allows you to leapfrog the blockage in your brain and thus, the left side can support the right side. Finally, the confusing or disturbing belief is processed in a healthy manner.
  • Bilateral stimulation also makes your brain very receptive to positive input. This is encouraged during EMDR as a way to “replace” counterproductive thinking patterns.
  • The brain is thereby returned to its factory setting, so to speak.

abstract image of a brain against a purple backgroundSo, What’s Exactly Happening in the Brain During EMDR?

Neuroplasticity is a word used to describe how new pathways can be created in the brain. Keep in mind that being stuck in neural pathways is what makes it so hard for you to heal. A repetitive treatment like EMDR can enable the brain to change. Therefore, it can also enable the creation of new emotions and perspectives. Think of it as rewriting the negative, feeling-stuck script that went into effect somewhere in your path. The repeated hand and eye movements encourage the brain to start processing the past until it is resolved.

Why You Should Consider EMDR

Now that you have a peek at what EMDR does to your brain, you might be wondering if it’s the right choice for you. Here are a few more good reasons to learn more:

  • EMDR has been shown to be effective in no more than 8 to 20 sessions.
  • Follow-up studies show that clients who underwent EMDR treatment continue to recover even after those 8 to 20 sessions are done.
  • Outside of some vivid dreams and memories in the early phases of treatment, EMDR has consistently shown little to no side effects.

Do you have debilitating memories or thought patterns of any kind? If so, it would behoove you to find out more about EMDR therapy. I’d love to talk with you soon.

Christine Dudero, MA, LMFTchristine.dudero@affinitypsych.com

Christine Dudero is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist experienced in working with individuals, couples & families across the lifespan. Christine takes a collaborative approach towards empowering you to achieve your therapy goals.

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What Are The 8 Phases Of EMDR Therapy?

What if we told you there’s a form of therapy that’s more about eye and hand movements than talking? How about if we added that it takes relatively few sessions and has a stellar success rate? You’d surely be curious and we would surely be talking about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

EMDR is renowned for its effectiveness with trauma survivors and is now being used for an increasing number of issues. Using eye and hand movement to induce n REM-like state has been found to create a safe space for processing negative memories and thought patterns. With this in mind, let’s explore the 8 phases of EMDR Therapy.

The 8 Phases of EMDR Therapy

Phase 1: History Taking/Treatment Planning

As might be expected, EMDR begins with some fundamental conversations between therapist and client. It is essential that trust is created and underlying issues are examined. Part of this process involves taking a history of the client to ascertain what led them to this point.

Phase 2: Preparation

EMDR is an unusual and unexpected form of therapy. The client will surely want an explanation of what to expect. During Phase 2, questions and concerns are dealt with head-on. Once the client feels comfortable with what they have learned, the specific EMDR techniques are explained. This gives the client a sense of being prepared for the treatment.

Phase 3: Assessment

Here is where the nuts and bolts start to kick in. A hallmark of EMDR is choosing a “target event.” This means the client and therapist collaborate to choose what event, thought, or memory is to be reprocessed. Subjective baseline measures are set and will be referred to later.

Phase 4: Desensitization

This is where the preprocessing commences. Your therapist uses side-to-side eye movements, sounds, or taps while you focus on the target event. This procedure is repeated until your subjective baseline measure of trauma or stress is reduced to zero.

photo of a teenage boy with his back turned towards camera against a blurred out backgroundPhase 5: Installation

In Phase 4, you were desensitized to the negative memory. Phase 5 is where you “replace” that negative sensation with something very positive. While the therapist uses the same techniques mentioned above, the client focuses on a positive belief until it feels completely true.

Phase 6: Body Scan

To wrap up the reprocessing section, the client will next hold two things in mind at once. There’s the fully processed target event and there’s the new positive belief. You’ll be guided through a full body scan to discern if any disturbances are still lingering. If so, they are reprocessed.

Phase 7: Closure

After such a powerful and intense experience, Phase 7 eases you into a feeling of safety and closure. With help from the therapist, you calmly transition back into the present moment. Subjective baseline measures are set again.

Phase 8: Reevaluation

This phase begins in the next session. It is an important way to gauge a client’s state of mind and body before more reprocessing is done. Through discussion and subjective baseline measures, distress level and positive cognition are assessed. It is in Phase 8 that the client and therapist decide together as to what the new target event will be.

Is EMDR the Right Choice For You?

EMDR Therapy helps you create enough distance from a potentially traumatic memory to process and resolve it without being triggered. It does so, most often, in just 6 to 12 sessions. The results are measurable and long-lasting.

If this sounds like something you would like to explore, we invite you to reach out for more information. Let’s connect for a free and confidential consultation for EMDR Therapy.

man standing on beach by water

What is EMDR Therapy and What Does It Help?

About 7 of every 10 adults in the U.S. has experienced a potentially traumatic event — at least once in their lifetime. Trauma is extremely common and can be highly debilitating. It may result in negative outcomes for both your mental and physical health. Left untreated, trauma can impair your daily life in a chronic way.

The above realities are part of what makes Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) so important. EMDR is a powerful, effective, and brief method for treating people struggling with trauma and/or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Let’s take a closer look at this treatment option.

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR is technically in the same family as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) but it’s probably unlike anything you’ve tried before. It begins, of course, with getting to know each other and taking a history. From there, things go in an unexpected but incredibly effective direction.

The client is asked to recall and visualize a painful and traumatic memory. This will stir up sensations within you when the treatment’s physical aspect commences. You will be asked to move your eyes left and right, back and forth. The therapist, meanwhile, will use hand or finger movements to pace your eye movements as you continue to focus on the traumatic memory. (Some therapists may use a moving light or tapping sounds.)

This process simulates the state of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and has been found to facilitate the processing of unresolved memories. Over the course of a few sessions, you will find that the trauma associated with these memories lessens. That’s when you and your therapist will work to replace what you’re focused on.

As your negative memories resolve, you replace them with healthy thoughts. You continue with the eye and hand movements but now, you’re shifting the underlying emotions. No longer is the dominant sensation one of shame and pain. You can replace that with strength and positivity.

How Does This Work?

In a state of fight-or-flight, parts of your brain are more heavily affected than others. This results in memories being stored in a very fragmented way. Since EMDR stimulates both brain hemispheres, it can bypass where the memories are stuck. This empowers your brain to fully integrate the memories in a typical way. They are there but not in a way that is easily triggered or disabling.

man standing on beach by waterEMDR’s Success Rate

Research shows EMDR has measurable and lasting effectiveness in relatively few sessions. Some of the studies include:

  • Thanks to EMDR, some 90 percent of sexual assault victims reported relief from PTSD in only three sessions.
  • A Department of Veteran Affairs study with former and active soldiers found a reduction of PTSD symptoms by 78 percent in just 12 sessions.
  • Research sponsored by Kaiser Permanente showed that 77 percent of those with more than one trauma were symptom-free after six sessions. For single-trauma sufferers, every single of them showed no PTSD symptoms after six sessions.

What Else Does EMDR Help?

With such a stellar track record, EMDR has been applied to other conditions and issues. It has been found to have positive impacts on people struggling with:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety, social anxiety, and panic disorders
  • Low self-esteem and motivation
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Triggers and cravings
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Disordered eating
  • Gender dysphoria

So, What’s Your Next Move?

If you have been suffering from trauma-related issues, EMDR might sound too good to be true. It’s unusual but its effectiveness is incredible. So, if you have questions, let’s connect. I invite you to reach out to set up a free and confidential consultation for EMDR Therapy. I can guide you through the basics and introduce you to the pathway of healing you’ve been looking for.