Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy is an evidence-based therapy originally developed to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While you may not be familiar with this form of therapy, there are nearly 30 years of evidence that supports the efficacy of this treatment in reducing physiological and emotional symptoms related to trauma. Since then, it also has been proven effective in treating a variety of other disorders, including anxiety, depression, phobias, OCD, and more.
The basic premise of EMDR is that when we are very upset or involved in a traumatic event, our brains freeze and cannot process all of the information that is being stored. This results in our brains making interpretations and meanings about ourselves and our world that is not always accurate. We then react to similar situations in maladaptive ways based on these interpretations.
For example, someone who has a phobia of bees may react to the sight of a bee in ways that others see as “irrational.” They refuse to go outside or mow the lawn because their brain has been hijacked and is telling them that they are in danger. They cannot change the way they feel about it because somewhere in their development, they did not have the capacity or ability to process their fear response.
With EMDR, we help clients identify the negative belief associated with this phobia and the memory where this was originally stored. Then we ask our client to access and focus on that memory, bringing it from long-term memory to working memory, and use rapid eye movements to help reprocess the event. In this case, the child was able to remember a teacher telling his class about her brother being stung by a swarm of bees while mowing the lawn and dying from his injuries. His brain suddenly accessed a powerful memory and a connection he made of needles flying in the air. No wonder, he panicked at the sight of bees. As we explored this memory and paired it with his personal experience, he was able to reduce his disturbance and realize that he had never been stung by a bee. He was not in danger. This had been a fluke accident that happened to someone else. After concluding treatment, he began playing outside and mowing the lawn again. If he noticed bees, he no longer panicked and ran away screaming. Instead, he was able to acknowledge them and not live in fear. What a relief!
That is the power of EMDR. Now, that is not to mean that EMDR is easy. We access painful memories through this treatment, and clients reexperience these events and their emotions. It takes courage to want to face these things head on. However, we have an eight-phase model that we follow to help guide our treatment. The phases are:
- Phase 1: History and treatment planning. Here we create a target plan of different negative beliefs you have about yourself, such as “I’m not good enough” or “I am responsible for everything,” and identify different times in your life when you felt the same way.
- Phase 2: Preparation. In this step, we teach clients a variety of stabilization techniques to help them reduce their anxiety and distress both in session and at home. We then use these skills as needed while reprocessing.
- Phase 3: Assessment. This phase is in preparation of reprocessing and desensitization. It involves identifying the event, negative cognition, emotion, body location, and taking a Subjective Units of Disturbance (SUD) score for this event. This is the client’s rating for how disturbing this belief and event is to them currently, on a scale of 10 (completely disturbing) to 0 (not disturbing at all).
- Phase 4: Desensitization. This is where we begin eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation to reduce the disturbance as low as we can get it, preferably 0.
- Phase 5: Installation. Once we reduce the disturbance, we move to installing a new positive, belief the client prefers, such as “I am good enough despite how others treat me” or “I can recognize appropriate responsibility.” We work to instill this as strongly as we can, using a validity of cognition (VOC) score of 1 (completely false) to 7 (completely true). We want to get it as close to 7 as we can.
- Phase 6: Body Scan. We ask the client to notice if they still feel the disturbance anywhere in their body and we target that if needed. Much of the time, the body tension has been reduced by this stage. EMDR is viewed successful when the client’s motor system no longer stores physical sensations associated with the memory.
- Phase 7: Closure. If we do not complete Phases 4 through 6, we work to contain the memory and use calming techniques to ensure the client leaves feeling better than when they came in.
- Phase 8: Reevaluation. At each new session, we check to make sure positive results have been maintained and identify further areas that need treatment.
EMDR is a powerful tool that we use at RDU Counseling for Change to help reduce disturbances in your life. Whether you are plagued by social anxiety, persistent depression, or flashbacks from being abused, we believe that
EMDR can be a helpful tool used to bring about the change and relief you seek. If you are interested in EMDR treatment, contact us.