What is EMDR?

EMDR, (or Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing) is a type of psychotherapy used to treat anxiety and traumatic stress. Unlike most of its predecessors, EMDR is a non-talk therapy, in which clients do not have to go into details of traumatic events which often contribute to nightmares, triggers or flashbacks. The trauma treatment was developed in 1988 by Francine Shapiro and is now labeled by the APA as an evidence-based treatment for PTSD and trauma.

How Does EMDR Work?

The brain has many parts, all of which play a different role in the way one processes the events of life. The main players during a traumatic event involve the amygdala and the frontal lobe. EMDR’s primary focus is on targeting and engaging these two parts for effective trauma treatment.

In a typical treatment session, a therapist will use finger movement, an EMDR light bar, toe-tapping or musical tones to distract the client’s frontal lobe, or the area responsible for thinking, reasoning and logic. At the same time, the therapist will ask the client to recall the disturbing event. This process opens up the amygdala - the emotional center of the brain responsible for processing fight, flight or freeze reactions - and allows the client to be in a safe place to work through their trauma. Throughout the session, the therapist will gently guide the client to shift their thoughts to more pleasant ones. 

8 Phases of EMDR Trauma Therapy

A typical EMDR session has 8 phases, with phases 3-8 being the actual EMDR session in action.

Evaluation

Phase 1

Evaluation: Determining symptoms, diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Preperation

Phase 2

Preparation: Teaching coping skills to help the patient stay grounded between sessions.

Assessment

Phase 3

Assessment: The memory for processing is selected.

Desensitizing

Phase 4

Desensitizing: The patient identifies the image related to the memory, the negative belief about self, related emotions and body sensations, and the positive belief they want to have in the now. The provider utilizes 0-10 scaling questions to determine the level of disturbance.

Installation

Phase 5

Installation: The target memory is linked with the positive belief.

Body Scan

Phase 6

Body scan: The patient scans through their body for any tension or tightness.

Closure

Phase 7

Closure: The session is complete and the patient is no longer experiencing painful memories or distressing emotions.

Re-Evaluation

Phase 8

Re-evaluation: The next session is reevaluating where the patient is in regards to the last session.

How Is EMDR Different From Other Trauma Treatment Therapies?

Traditional talk therapy targets the frontal lobe, attempting to change how a person thinks about an event. This can be helpful, but it is also important to target the amygdala, to give the brain space to file away the traumatic event so it is no longer “free-floating.”

EMDR requires no written homework between sessions but is generally limited to the client practicing coping skills in their normal day-to-day lives. EMDR has higher recovery rates and significantly less treatment dropout.

For those who have not found success in other therapies, EMDR trauma therapy can truly be life-changing.

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If you would like more information on EMDR trauma therapy at our trauma treatment center, please contact our team. All calls are free and confidential.

(210) 254-3618