What is EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.  EMDR is an integrative form of therapy that helps people heal from trauma or other distressing life experiences. EMDR has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of post-traumatic stress, phobias, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, stress, sexual and physical abuse, disturbing memories, complicated grief, and addictions. EMDR is endorsed by the World Health Organization, the American Psychiatric Association, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense.

EMDR is a standardized treatment approach which helps to accelerate the brain’s capacity for healing from a traumatic memory or distressing life event by using bilateral stimulations. BLS can be in the form of eye movements, sounds or tapping which can help the brain to process the memory fully (through an Adaptive Information Processing system of the brain) thereby reducing the emotional intensity and corresponding triggering responses that a person would previously experience from that memory or memories.

What happens when you are traumatized?

Most of the time, your body routinely manages new information and experiences without you being aware of it. However, when something out of the ordinary occurs and you are traumatized by an overwhelming event (e.g. a car accident) or by being repeatedly subjected to distress (e.g. neglect/abuse), your natural coping mechanism can become overloaded. This overloading can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in your brain or being "unprocessed". Such unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in the limbic system of your brain in a "raw" and emotional form, rather than in a verbal “story” mode. This limbic system maintains traumatic memories in an isolated memory network that is associated with emotions and physical sensations, which are disconnected from the brain’s cortex where we use language to store memories. The limbic system’s traumatic memories can be continually triggered when you experience events similar to the difficult experiences you have been through. Often the memory itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger or despair are continually triggered in the present. Your ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can therefore become inhibited. EMDR helps create the connections between your brain’s memory networks, enabling your brain to process the traumatic memory.

What is an EMDR session like?

EMDR utilizes the natural healing abilities of the brain/body. After an assessment and development of a treatment plan along with coping skill development (called resourcing), clients are then able to begin the EMDR processing.  EMDR sessions are not like the traditional forms of "talk therapy" but are more specific to a client's "Target Memory" that is to be processed.  Clients are guided through a series of steps/questions so that they can focus on their target memory and or memories that surface during the EMDR session.  EMDR processing can be done through visual, audio and tactile devices that stimulate the left/right hemispheres of the brain.  Clients can use just a light bar (visual) or the sets can be supplemented with audio (headphones) and tactile (tappers) devices. This is based upon client comfort.

With repeated sets, the target memory and the client's response to this memory or memories are able to be fully processed which in turn, reduces trauma-related symptoms and improves overall client functioning.  

What can EMDR be used for?

In addition to its use for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, EMDR has been successfully used to treat other mental health conditions including anxiety/panic disorders, phobias, etc.

How long does EMDR Treatment take?

The length of EMDR treatment is unique to each individual and their treatment needs.  It can be a brief/time-limited treatment of 4-8 sessions or as a part of an integrative plan of therapy.   EMDR can be easily integrated with other approaches in which your therapist might be trained, such as Psychodynamic psychotherapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or Cognitive Behavior Therapy. 

What evidence is there that EMDR is a Successful Treatment approach?

EMDR is an empirically researched and evidenced based treatment that has been studied extensively and endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, Department of Defense, Veteran's Administration, the International Society for Traumatic Stress, and others.  For more information about EMDR, go to EMDR.com or EMDRIA.org.

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