EMDR Essenstials

In the US, the APA (American Psychiatric Association), the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, DOD (Department of Defense) and VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) have declared EMDR to be an effective form of trauma treatment.

EMDR is practiced by over 100,00 licensed mental health therapists all over the world. There are more controlled studies to date on EMDR than on any other method used in the treatment of trauma.

EMDR is the only well-researched treatment model capable of addressing multiple incidents of trauma simultaneously. 

EMDR therapies are based on the belief that all survivors are in the process of adapting and self-healing. It  provides profound and stable results in a relatively short period of time. EMDR is a client driven model that addresses the past, present and prepares you for the future.

EMDR was developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. It is an integrated model that draws from behavioral, cognitive, psycho-dynamic, body based and systems therapies to heal disturbing physical and emotional distress. It utilizes behavioral, cognitive, somatic, schematic, affective and self-assessment components. 

Who Can Benefit from EMDR

Recent research has shown that less dramatic life experiences can cause symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) , even when the person has not experienced a major trauma. EMDR can be used to treat physical, medical and emotional trauma, grief and loss, addictions, anxiety and depression. 

Unresolved traumatic memories can result in avoidance of reminders of the incident and increased arousal, resulting in problems such as angry outbursts, being easily startled, having difficulty concentrating and intrusive thoughts such as nightmares or flashbacks. Research has shown that physical symptoms with no medical explanation such as fatigue, gastrointestinal problems and pain can and often do accompany these sorts of disorders.

Confusing and or disturbing life experiences can occur throughout our lives. For many people they occur in childhood. Unresolved painful experiences with family members, adults and peers can result in difficulties later in life due to the negative impact upon a person's sense of self.

When a person is held back from doing things they would like to do or is forced to do things that are not useful, this can result in feelings of insecurity, anxiety, fear or sadness. Sometimes, these experiences are processed and we move on. Other times, the experience remains unprocessed and is stored as a painful memory. These unprocessed memories can be accompanied by physical sensations, distressing thoughts and difficulty regulating our thoughts, actions and emotions. Often times, it is our earliest memories of experiencing feelings of not being safe, not being good enough or of not being in control that we aren't always even aware of that can become triggered and we are flooded with troubling sensations. We don't always get an image or a specific thought when those memories are activated. So, we don't necessarily make the connection that much of the trouble is because of these old, unprocessed memories. When certain things happen to trigger those unprocessed memories, it can lead to a vicious cycle of having trouble interacting with others and not feeling in control which results in new painful memories and experiences. EMDR works by utilizing bilateral stimulation which assists in the processing of traumatic material. This facilitates relaxation, diminishes the capacity for repression and inhibition while simultaneously utilizing and facilitating therapeutic distraction.

EMDR Therapy Components

Phase 1:  History-taking session(s).  I will assess your readiness and we will develop a treatment plan.  We will identify possible targets for EMDR processing*. Possible targets include distressing memories and current situations that cause emotional distress.  Other targets may include related incidents in the past.  Emphasis is placed on acquiring  specific skills and behaviors that will be needed to move into the next phases of therapy.

Phase 2:  I will ensure that the you have several different ways of handling emotional distress during and between sessions. My goal is to help you obtain rapid and effective change while maintaining a sense of well being between sessions.

Phases 3-6:  A target is identified and processed using EMDR therapy procedures. You will identify three things:
1.  The vivid visual image related to the memory
2.  A negative belief about self
3.  Related emotions and body sensations
Then, you will identify a positive belief. I will help you to rate the positive belief as well as the intensity of the negative emotions. In the next step, you will focus on the image, negative thought, and body sensations while sets of bilateral stimulation are introduced. These sets may include eye movements, taps, or tones. The type and length of these sets is different for each client. I will ask you to take note of whatever spontaneously occurs.

After each set of stimulation, I will ask you to let your mind go blank and to notice whatever thought, feeling, image, memory, or sensation comes to mind. This will help me to determine where next to focus our attention. These repeated sets with directed focused attention occur numerous times throughout the session. If you become distressed or have difficulty in progressing, I follow the EMDR protocol to help you get back on track.

When you no longer report distress related to the targeted memory, I will ask you to think of the preferred positive belief that was identified at the beginning of the session. You may decide that you wish to  adjust the positive belief or you may feel that it is still fitting. Then, you will focus on it during the next sets within the protocol.

Phase 7:  During Closure, I will ask you to be mindful of any new sensations, thoughts, emotions, feelings or behaviors that occur over the next week and to utilize the skills and resources that were developed in phase two.   

Phase 8:  The following session will begin with re-evaluation and examining the progress made thus far. The EMDR treatment processes all related events, current incidents that elicit distress, and future events that may require different responses are evaluated.

*Processing does not mean talking about the events. EMDR processing is an individual experience that occurs as your brain and body begin to heal. Initial EMDR processing may be directed to childhood events vs stressors that occur in adulthood or an identified critical incident if a problematic childhood is present.  Clients tend to gain insight on their situations, the emotional distress resolves and they start to change their behaviors. The length of treatment depends upon the number of traumas and the age of trauma symptoms onset. Generally,  single event adult onset trauma with no prior history of difficulty can be successfully treated in about 5 sessions.  Survivors of multiple traumas may require a longer treatment time.


Adapted from: Shapiro, F. (2015). Can You Benefit from EMDR Therapy?. Psych. Central. Retrieved on July 04, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/can-you-benefit-from-emdr-therapy/