About EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and therapy in general
Disclaimer for legal purposes: The practice of behavioral medicine is not an exact science and acknowledges that no guarantees have been made as to the results of treatment or care. Also, behavioral health gets a little complicated…..
EMDR is an Evidenced Based Practice (EBP). It has been validated by numerous studies over the past 25 years. EMDR is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (2004) for the effective treatment of trauma as well as many other healthcare associations including the VA/DOD. EMDR research has found that a single traumatic incident can be treated in 3-6 sessions with complete resolution 77-100% of the time. Multiple traumatic events, including multiple combat deployments or repetitive sexual assault may require 12 or more sessions for complete resolution of extensive trauma experiences.
EMDR is a person-centered therapy and addresses the root of the trauma. This means that when processing, the client is always in control, not the therapist. The therapist role is to be a guide to the client. An EMDR session takes between 60-90 minutes. There is no written homework involved; in comparison to other treatment models the treatment dropout rate is minimal.
EMDR therapy is unique in that it does not require talking in detail about the distressing issue or having to process trauma with written homework in between sessions. EMDR therapy allows the brain to engage it’s natural healing process. This therapy allows the person to grow from the painful memories rather than be controlled by them. The key component in EMDR is the use of alternating eye movements, tapping or tones (Bi-Lateral Stimulation-BLS). This helps the memory become “unstuck.” When a painful memory is processed, it stays that way. EMDR can be done either in person or virtually and only with an appropriately trained and licensed clinician.
Theory behind EMDR:
All psychotherapies have a theory to help understand why a particular model works. EMDR follows the AIP model (Adaptive Information Processing) specifically how experiences are stored within the memory. If the experience is processed and integrated, the memory is adaptive and healthy. We can think back to a difficult time with a sense of accomplishment, humor, or relief. We are naturally resilient and the brain is hardwired to heal emotional wounds. When the past is present-the memory is “stuck” and the person re-experiences it over and over. What AIP theorizes is that the memory is not properly processed or the processing has been disrupted for different reasons. The result is trauma/anxiety/depression symptoms.
What is Bi-lateral Stimulation (BLS)?
In an odd way think “Jedi Mind Trick.” When EMDR was developed, it involved the provider moving their fingers back and forth a few inches from the patient’s face, while the patient thought of the disturbing event. With research and innovation, BLS now includes a choice of eye movements, tapping on the hands or tones alternating in the ears. During a telehealth session, I will provide a link to a website that provides BLS in the form of a ball on the screen or tones that go back and forth. EMDR works just as well via telehealth as it does face to face. So, what does this mean? Good question my apprentice….
How EMDR works:
EMDR is an 8-phase therapy that involves Bi-Lateral Stimulation (BLS-eye movements, tones or tapping). What the research is indicating is that the eye movements, tones, or tapping activate the part of the brain that controls the REM cycle (dream state during sleep). When the person is focusing on the traumatic event while receiving BLS, the brain is being tricked into allowing the trauma to move from the fight/flight/freeze response to the neural networks where the memory is supposed to be.
Think of trauma and EMDR it like this: On your computer desktop- you have icons of documents, PDFs and programs that serve as a reminder of where something is. Every time you look at the screen(trigger)-there is the icon(trauma). Where we want that icon/document/pdf file to live is in the long-term memory or documents folder. If the icon(trauma) is placed there, it won’t cause the same reaction even when you open it (think of it) later.
The short of is that when used appropriately, EMDR will significantly reduce the trauma reaction in session. This means that when the person leaves the session, they 1- feel better and 2-still have the memory without the emotional reactions/triggers. Now after all that, there is no therapy on this planet that will ever make you like a bad experience. If you don’t like green peas, therapy won’t change that for you. You just won’t have the emotional reaction to having green peas on your plate.
That is as simple as I can make this explanation. Also, no homework.