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  • Writer's pictureKevin Kenealy

EMDR for PTSD and Trauma

Did you know that EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, is one of the strongest forms of therapy for PTSD patients? If you or someone you know has experienced physical, mental, or emotional trauma, EMDR therapy can help better manage your responses to triggering thoughts and difficult emotions.

What is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a breakthrough, structured psychotherapy that is increasingly growing in use as a treatment for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It helps those affected with PTSD to process difficult memories and emotions and may also be used to relieve general psychological stress in other areas. The main goal of EMDR Therapy is to help clients process traumatic experiences and replace them with new memories that reduce future stress responses.

How does EMDR therapy work?

EMDR Therapy focus on 3 important factors broken down into 8 phases:

  • Defining past triggering memories

  • Taking note of present difficulties

  • Creating healthier future responses

Phase 1: Developing the treatment plan

In the first phase of EMDR treatment, the client will discuss his or her problems and the root events of trauma. The therapist will take down his or her history as well as delve into deeper discussion about behaviors, emotions, and thought processes. This phase helps establish a clear understanding of the therapy for the client and the client’s goals for the therapist.

Phase 2: Establishing trust

Since it can be very difficult for clients to relive past trauma, the therapist may spend a few extra sessions teaching clients healthy coping techniques before diving into EMDR therapy. This phase helps establish trust and nurtures healthy responses to emotional disturbances that may come up in later phases.

Once the therapist and client have an understanding of what they want to work on specifically, the therapist will then bring triggering experiences to the surface for reprocessing by accessing the client’s traumatic memory network.

Phases 3 - 6: Defining thoughts, emotions, and responses

In these phases, clients choose specific images from their traumatic experience, and correspond them to negative self-belief statements, emotions, and physical sensations that may be associated with the root event. The client also picks a positive statement that he or she wants to believe, like “I can succeed.” Once established, the therapist also directs the client to rate their positive beliefs as well as the intensity of the negative emotions.

At this point, EMDR processing can begin. Clients focus on their negative thoughts and body sensations while simultaneously engaging in EMDR processing through bilateral simulation, which usually includes eye movements, taps, or tones.

As this is happening, the therapist helps the patient foster a less emotional response by helping to redirect the patient’s thoughts, feelings, and sensations that come up during the session. As the therapist redirects the client’s attention over time, new associations form with more adaptive memories.

Phase 7: Closure

This should happen after every session where traumatic memories come up. Closure makes sure the client does not leave feeling worse than they came, rather feeling better and stronger, so the client will usually mark any potential issues in a weekly log, and share it with the therapist. For the most success, therapists also direct patients to outside activities that can supplement their therapy, like journaling or meditating.

Phase 8: Reevaluation

This phase is the beginning of the next session, and it involves making note of all the progress made during EMDR Therapy so far. It’s also a way to continuously update the treatment plan however the therapist sees best fit for the client, and based on weekly notes made by the client.

Final Takeaway

The more a client is able to divert their attention through EMDR, the less impact these traumatic memories have on emotions, and the less vivid they become overtime. If you are struggling with anxiety and PTSD, ask your therapist about EMDR Therapy and setting up a custom treatment plan.

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