Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing- EMDR therapy, is widely known to be the magic wand waved by psychologists and therapists to treat trauma-related disorders and other emotional disturbances such as anxiety and depression. It is particularly effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In 1987, Francine Shapiro, a California based psychologist discovered EMDR after taking a walk in the woods. She was overwhelmed with a plethora of disturbing thoughts as she walked through the woods, but she soon discovered that her anxiety improved after making back and forth eye movements while observing the surroundings.
Francine decided to try this approach with her clients and surprisingly enough it worked. And that was how EMDR therapy came to be. And today it is one of the top trauma processing techniques used by licensed therapists and clinicians worldwide to treat their clients.
As the name implies, the technique employs bilateral eye movements and mind exposure to modify painful memories and feelings. EMDR makes use of several psychotherapy theories including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that includes hand tapping, eye movements or audio stimulation to activate emotional and cognitive processes that have been blocked due to distress.
With this technique, a person can re-adjust their brain to come to terms with the pain and fear associated with the traumatic or emotionally distressing incident. EMDR may also widen a person’s perspective or self-belief which can lead to a better and more robust self-esteem.
For instance, during an EMDR session, a traumatized war victim will be asked to recollect memories of the painful experience while making bilateral eye movements that are focused on the therapist’s hand tapping. This process is repeated continuously until the person processes the memory.
When the treatment has been successfully administered, the traumatized war victim will have more positive thoughts when remembering the incident. Instead of getting terrified, sad or having panic attacks, the person will feel more relaxed and comfortable and think to themselves “It could have been worst but I am a survivor” with a smile.
THE BENEFITS OF EMDR THERAPY
EMDR therapy has been found to be beneficial in treating people with :
PTSD: EMDR therapy is particularly suitable for treating symptoms associated with trauma. While it cannot change the facts of the distressing incident, it can greatly relieve the accompanying anxiety or depression associated with the memories.
Anxiety: Using EMDR therapy for anxiety associated with traumatic events is thought to be effective. .EMDR can replace the negative and self depleting thoughts that accompany anxiety with more positive and self-worthy thoughts through the 8 phase approach. (as discussed below)
Depression: Using EMDR therapy for depression has also shown promising results. One particular study found that the treatment technique worked well for 68% of the study participants by helping them to gain full remission. The study participants in general, noticed a considerable decrease in depressive symptoms.
EMDR therapy is also used to treat panic disorders, chronic pain, eating disorders, substance use disorders, and addiction problems . However there is no substantial scientific evidence to prove it’s effectiveness in treating these conditions.
HOW IS EMDR ADMINISTERED?
The process of EMDR consists of several phases that involves multiple sessions of treatment.The phases of treatment focuses on the past, present and future and are collectively used to help a person work through emotional trauma and distress.Let’s take a look at the 8 phases of the EMDR technique :
PHASE 1: In the first phase of treatment,the therapist collects information about the client’s history regarding traumatic experiences and events in the past and their current cause of worry and concern. The therapist and the client will then review the history and design a treatment plan tailored to target specific events or memories.
PHASE 2: Following the historical review, the therapist will then teach their client different coping strategies to manage the emotional and psychological disturbances they are struggling with. Deep breathing exercises, meditation and mindfulness may be recommended.
PHASE 3-7: This is where the bulk of the work lies. The therapist in this phase will select the targeted memories mentioned earlier and ask their client to picture the negative memories and thoughts associated with it, while they simultaneously move their eyes from side to side. To gain more focus, the therapist will make hand movements or other movements or make them listen to an audio tape as the case maybe.
After this stimulation, the therapist will ask the client in question to clear their mind and focus on the thoughts and emotions they are feeling at that point in time and discuss about it.The therapist will repeat this process continously until the client lets go of all negative and distressing emotions and thoughts.
PHASE 8: In this final phase, the therapist and the client will evaluate the progress they have made. The client would be taught how to maintain the positive outlook and mental freedom they have achieved on a daily basis and how to handle any potential stress that may come up in the long run.
DOING EMDR AT HOME
In most cases, EMDR therapy is conducted by a licensed or certified EMDR therapist. But there are self directed EMDR techniques you can find online that you can practice conveniently from the comfort of your own home to ease anxiety (which is part of the EMDR process).These techniques aim to relax you, redirect your thoughts and ease your mind. One of such techniques is the butterfly hug EMDR therapy.
The butterfly hug which is sometimes called “hug of self love” was discovered by Lucy Artigas in 1997 in Acapulco while she was working with survivors of the hurricane Paulina. This technique is employed in different therapeutic contexts and can also be used as a relaxation method to relief stress. The procedure is as follows:
- Cross your arms over your chest in such a way that your hands and fingers are vertically aligned. The tip of each of your middle finger should sit below the collarbone. Also your fingers should point at your neck and not your arms.
- While still maintaining the previous position, close your eyes completely or partially and begin to tap your hands alternately in such a way that it mimics the flapping wings of a butterfly. Anytime you feel your mind drifting, redirect your focus to the tapping movement of your hands.
- Take deep and slow abdominal breaths while you quietly observe all the thoughts and physical sensations going on in your mind and body. Allow your thoughts to roam freely without trying to avoid or judge them.
- When you feel like your body and mind has reached it’s limit and you are feeling relaxed,lower your hands and place them on your thighs.
You can also try this method :
- Get into a sitting position, and gently place each of your hands palm-down on your legs.
- Close your eyes and listen to your breathing
- Start tapping your legs with your hands while you allow your thoughts to roam freely.
The tapping in the two techniques creates the bilateral stimulation which is a core part of the EMDR process. To gain more access to more self-directed EMDR techniques, The EMDR Institute published a book titled “Getting past your past: How to Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help techniques from EMDR Therapy“. The book is available on their website and it contains various examples of EMDR exercises and methods you can practice on your own.
You can also hit the search button for EMDR therapy youtube videos where you will find an assortment of videos that can teach you how to do EMDR at home and on your own.
Additionally, there are several EMDR apps you can download to guide you through self-applied EMDR techniques. You should note that most of these apps may not be as credible or as effective as advertised. 0ne EMDR scientific review recommended some apps for EMDR practice, but the researchers strongly advise that the apps be used by a licensed clinician or under the supervision of one. Some of the apps from the list include
- EMDR Elite
- The EMDR Helper
- EMDR Therapy +
- EMDR +
- EMDR For Clinicians Basic HD
- EMDR For Clinicians Pro HD
It is important to bear in mind that the full benefits of EMDR can only be gained with the help of a certified therapist. The self-help EMDR methods only help one to manage the anxiety and distress that accompanies a traumatic incident. A therapist on the other hand can help you work through your memories and emotions effectively with adequate treatment techniques. It also helps to have a therapist to talk to or guide you through, while trying to practice coping strategies on your own.
So where do you find an EMDR therapist? You can find an EMDR therapist through your local EMDR directory websites. You can also Google EMDR therapy near me or EMDR therapists within your geographic location. EMDR therapists can be found in most towns and cities of the world. parts of the world.
HOW LONG DOES EMDR THERAPY TAKE?
A typical EMDR treatment lasts for about 12 sessions,with each session lasting between 60-90 minutes. Sessions can be held weekly or bi-weekly. One frequently asked EMDR therapy question is “how long does EMDR take to work”?
The EMDR treatment usually gives rapid relief and a person may begin to notice improvements in their symptoms even after a single session. However treatment response to EMDR therapy is subjective and is different for everyone.
THE DANGERS AND SIDE EFFECTS OF EMDR THERAPY
The dangers of EMDR therapy are quite few and is even more controlled when carried out under the guidance of a licensed therapist or clinician. Side effects associated with the process may include high levels of emotional distress, anxiety and depression. Since the process involves recollecting disturbing memories and events, the client may report some of these side effects including nightmares. Fortunately most of these effects tend to reduce as treatment continues. Anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed to help the client cope during the period of treatment.
HOW EFFECTIVE IS EMDR THERAPY AND IS IT SAFE?
Multiple studies and reviews have supported the efficacy of EMDR therapy. In fact, studies have found that EMDR therapy is not only effective but that its effect can last for a long time.one of such studies assessed the study participants a couple of months after administering EMDR and found that the effects were still active compared to standard care treatments.
A mental analysis of 26 randomized controlled trials revealed that EMDR can significantly relieve symptoms of anxiety, subjective distress and PTSD.
Another study that involved 22 participants found that the therapy was effective in managing psychotic disorder and PTSD in about 77% of the participants. Symptom like delusions, hallucinations, depression, and anxiety were greatly reduced in the participants.
With regard to safety, EMDR is a generally safe practice when administered by a licensed practitioner. There is no known case of serious complications resulting from the process. Side effects that may occur such as heightened emotional distress and anxiety can be managed and often go away as the effect of the treatment sets in.
THE LAST WORD
On a final note, EMDR therapy has proven to be a very effective treatment for PTSD and trauma-related conditions. It may also be helpful in treating other conditions like panic disorders, chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. It has fewer side effects compared to some oral medications. In some cases, it may even enhance the effects of these medications. It is always good to check in with a licensed therapist or EMDR practitioner first, before deciding to try self-directed EMDR techniques.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.