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Everything You Need To Know About EMDR Therapy

Among the various kinds of nontraditional psychotherapy, the one that is gaining ample popularity these days is the EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy. Although a fairly new one, EMDR therapy is becoming popular due to its ability to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [1] . This kind of a stress disorder most likely occurs after experiences such as rape, car accidents, military combat or physical assault [2] .

EMDR has still not found its way into the clinics of several doctors as certain controversies still surround it - although there's ongoing research to answer these controversial questions. However, it is worth knowing how EMDR gives treating and addressing psychological issues a completely new perspective.

Read on to know more about how EMDR continues to remain effective in spite of not relying on medications or talk therapy.

What Is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy is a psychotherapy technique which is interactive in nature and can effectively relieve psychological stress [3] . This therapy is believed to efficiently treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

During the sessions of EMDR therapy, you would be asked to briefly relive the triggering experiences (the cause behind the trauma) while the therapist directs your eye movements. EMDR therapy is considered effective because recalling the distressing events will be less emotionally upsetting when the person's attention is diverted [4] . The person is exposed to the memories without having to go through the phase of a strong psychological response. Therapists claim that overtime the therapy can lessen the impact that the memories have on the person.

Benefits Of EMDR Therapy

People with traumatic memories are believed to benefit most from EMDR therapy. It is highly effective especially for people who struggle to recollect and speak about their past experiences.

Although not clinically proven, researchers believe that EMDR therapy can also be used to treat the following [5] :

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Addictions
  • Panic attacks
  • Eating disorders

How Does EMDR Therapy Work?

An EMDR treatment session can last up to 90 minutes. The entire therapy is broken down into eight different phases and hence one would need multiple sessions. On average, the treatment usually takes about 12 separate sessions [6] .

  • Phase one: History and treatment planning

Your history is first reviewed by the therapist. This is to evaluate where you stand in the treatment process. This is the evaluation phase which includes talking about your trauma and identifying potential traumatic moments which can be targeted for treatment specifically [7] .

  • Phase two: Preparation

The therapist helps you understand and learn different ways by which you can cope with the psychological and emotional stress [8] . Stress management techniques involve mindfulness and deep breathing.

  • Phase three: Assessment

The therapist identifies the specific memories that can be targeted. For each target memory, the therapist also identifies associated components such as physical sensations that are stimulated when you concentrate on an event [9] .

  • Phase four to seven: Treatment

Phase four begins with the therapist treating the targeted memories. During each session, you will be asked to focus on one particular negative thought, image or memory. The therapist will also make you do eye movements simultaneously [10] . This bilateral stimulation may also include taps or other movements.

Once you are done with the bilateral stimulation, the therapist will ask you to let your mind go blank and instead concentrate on spontaneous feelings and thoughts [11] . Once you have identified these thoughts, your therapist might want you to refocus on the traumatic memories.

In case the patient gets distressed, the therapist would help the patient to return to the present before moving on to another traumatic memory. With time. the distress associated with each thought, image or memory should start to fade.

  • Phase eight: The final phase

You will be asked to evaluate your progress after these sessions. Your therapist also does the same [12] .

What Can You Expect During EMDR Therapy?

During the session, your therapist would move his or her fingers back and front in front of your face and would ask you to follow the hand motions with your eyes. All this while you recall a disturbing event from your past. This is to monitor the emotions and body sensations that go along with it [13] .

Slowly, your therapist would shift your thoughts to more pleasant situations. Some therapists might use hand or toe-tapping or musical tones instead of finger movements.

How Effective Is EMDR Therapy?

Several studies have shown that EMDR therapy can effectively treat PTSD. A study conducted on 22 people found that 77 per cent of the individuals who underwent EMDR therapy for the treatment of PTSD showed significant health improvement. People who underwent EMDR therapy reported improvement in symptoms related to delusions, anxiety, hallucinations and depression [14] .

When compared to prolonged exposure therapy, EMDR therapy was found to be more effective in treating symptoms. The effects of this therapy are believed to be maintained for a long term [15]

. Studies reveal that EMDR therapy can give people a longer-lasting reduction in symptoms than standard care (SC) treatment.

EMDR appears to be one of the most effective and safe therapy with no negative side effects. However, few mental health practitioners still continue to debate EMDR's effectiveness. It is so because critics say that most of the studies conducted for EMDR therapy always involved only small numbers of participants. Nevertheless, there still exists positive reports on EMDR therapy that researchers have published based on consolidated data from several studies.

What To Know Before You Try EMDR Therapy

Although EMDR therapy is believed to be highly safe, there are few side effects that you might experience.

EMDR therapy makes you land in a heightened awareness of thinking [16] and this necessarily does not end when the session does. This can lead to light-headedness. This can also result in vivid and realistic dreams [17] .

One should know that EMDR therapy does not work overnight, it would take quite a few sessions to start showing results.

Although the therapy is effective in the long run, it can be emotionally stressful to move through the course of the treatment as people would need to start dealing with reliving the traumatic events. It is always advisable to discuss all your concerns with the therapist before you begin with receiving this treatment.

Many people prefer EMDR therapy over prescription medications (which are most likely to have side effects). For some, EMDR therapy strengthens the effectiveness of their medicines [18] . Always approach a certified mental health practitioner when you wish to receive EMDR therapy.

View Article References
  1. [1] Wilson, G., Farrell, D., Barron, I., Hutchins, J., Whybrow, D., & Kiernan, M. D. (2018). The Use of Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy in Treating Post-traumatic Stress Disorder-A Systematic Narrative Review.Frontiers in psychology,9, 923.
  2. [2] Bisson, J. I., Cosgrove, S., Lewis, C., & Robert, N. P. (2015). Post-traumatic stress disorder.BMJ (Clinical research ed.),351, h6161.
  3. [3] Shapiro, F. (2014). The role of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy in medicine: addressing the psychological and physical symptoms stemming from adverse life experiences.The Permanente Journal,18(1), 71.
  4. [4] Landin-Romero, R., Moreno-Alcazar, A., Pagani, M., & Amann, B. L. (2018). How does eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy work? A systematic review on suggested mechanisms of action.Frontiers in psychology,9, 1395.
  5. [5] Wilson, G., Farrell, D., Barron, I., Hutchins, J., Whybrow, D., & Kiernan, M. D. (2018). The Use of Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy in Treating Post-traumatic Stress Disorder-A Systematic Narrative Review.Frontiers in psychology,9, 923.
  6. [6] Valiente-Gómez, A., Moreno-Alcázar, A., Treen, D., Cedrón, C., Colom, F., Pérez, V., & Amann, B. L. (2017). EMDR beyond PTSD: A Systematic Literature Review.Frontiers in psychology,8, 1668.
  7. [7] van Vliet, N. I., Huntjens, R. J., van Dijk, M. K., & de Jongh, A. (2018). Phase-based treatment versus immediate trauma-focused treatment in patients with childhood trauma-related posttraumatic stress disorder: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial.Trials,19(1), 138.
  8. [8] Menon, S. B., & Jayan, C. (2010). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: A conceptual framework.Indian journal of psychological medicine,32(2), 136.
  9. [9] Chen, R., Gillespie, A., Zhao, Y., Xi, Y., Ren, Y., & McLean, L. (2018). The Efficacy of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing in Children and Adults Who Have Experienced Complex Childhood Trauma: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials.Frontiers in psychology,9, 534.
  10. [10] Amano, T., & Toichi, M. (2016). The Role of Alternating Bilateral Stimulation in Establishing Positive Cognition in EMDR Therapy: A Multi-Channel Near-Infrared Spectroscopy Study.PloS one,11(10), e0162735.
  11. [11] Nia, N. G., Afrasiabifar, A., & Behnammoghadam, M. (2018). Comparing the effect of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) with guided imagery on pain severity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.Journal of pain research,11, 2107–2113.
  12. [12] Hase, M., Plagge, J., Hase, A., Braas, R., Ostacoli, L., Hofmann, A., & Huchzermeier, C. (2018). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Versus Treatment as Usual in the Treatment of Depression: A Randomized-Controlled Trial.Frontiers in psychology,9, 1384.
  13. [13] Wilson, G., Farrell, D., Barron, I., Hutchins, J., Whybrow, D., & Kiernan, M. D. (2018). The Use of Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy in Treating Post-traumatic Stress Disorder-A Systematic Narrative Review.Frontiers in psychology,9, 923.
  14. [14] Moreno-Alcázar, A., Treen, D., Valiente-Gómez, A., Sio-Eroles, A., Pérez, V., Amann, B. L., & Radua, J. (2017). Efficacy of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing in Children and Adolescent with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.Frontiers in psychology,8, 1750.
  15. [15] Van Woudenberg, C., Voorendonk, E. M., Bongaerts, H., Zoet, H. A., Verhagen, M., Lee, C. W., … De Jongh, A. (2018). Effectiveness of an intensive treatment programme combining prolonged exposure and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for severe post-traumatic stress disorder.European journal of psychotraumatology,9(1), 1487225.
  16. [16] Cotter, P., Meysner, L., & Lee, C. W. (2017). Participant experiences of Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing vs. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for grief: similarities and differences.European journal of psychotraumatology,8(1), 1375838.
  17. [17] El-Solh A. A. (2018). Management of nightmares in patients with posttraumatic stress disorder: current perspectives.Nature and science of sleep,10, 409–420.
  18. [18] Ostacoli, L., Carletto, S., Cavallo, M., Baldomir-Gago, P., Di Lorenzo, G., Fernandez, I., … Hofmann, A. (2018). Comparison of Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as Adjunctive Treatments for Recurrent Depression: The European Depression EMDR Network (EDEN) Randomized Controlled Trial.Frontiers in psychology,9, 74.

Story first published: Monday, April 15, 2019, 14:00 [IST]
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