What is EMDR?
Those letters stand for “eye movement desensitization and reprocessing” and EMDR therapy is a powerful therapy to help facilitate the brain’s natural healing processes by tapping into the disturbing memories just enough to start erasing the fear, dread, and depression.
How does EMDR work?
EMDR therapy occurs through an 8-step process I’ve memorized and practiced many many many times. We start with learning a little about what is bothering you and a lot about the rest of your history. One of the things I see clients appreciate most about EMDR is that they don’t have to relive their trauma, they don’t have to tell me all the details. After history taking where I get an idea of what it is we’re going to be working on, we will focus on “resourcing” to ensure you feel confident in your ability to regulate your emotions and keep yourself safe when the emotions and memories become distressing. For most people, this takes longer than they want–usually a month or two, sometimes shorter, sometimes longer. And, in all honesty, it’s something we are consistently working on throughout our work together because we become aware of new or more effective resources and need to bring them on board to help out.
The next big chunk of therapy is about “reprocessing” traumatic memories. Disclaimer: It’s a little complicated, so this description will not be able to cover it all. I will ask you to think of the memory and notice what you are thinking and feeling while you follow my fingers back and forth across the room with your eyes. This is “bilateral stimulation” of the brain–getting both sides of the brain to work together–and it can happen with the eye movements or with a buzzing device you hold in each hand, tapping your legs, and other ways. The goal is to get both sides of the brain activated so they can clear up the stuck points the trauma has created.
I wrote a blog post that further outlines the 8 steps–you can check it out here!
Why would I need EMDR therapy?
Often when trauma occurs, information can get stuck or stored in the brain in unhelpful ways and continue to negatively effect you–think: flashbacks, nightmares, high anxiety, depression, difficulty in relationships, and on and on. The old stored information can be triggered in the present and can cause you to have thoughts, feelings or sensations that transport you right back to the time the trauma occurred. This affects the way we see the world and how we relate with others.
For most, negative beliefs like “I am worthless,” “I am bad,” “It’s all my fault,” or “I am not good enough,” which are born out of many types of big or small traumas, can drive reactions, relationships and feelings about ourselves in our present day lives. EMDR uses eye movements (similar to what occurs during REM sleep) to help facilitate information processing, and relieve the negative effects of trauma in your life and the negative beliefs that go with it. You will still remember what happened but it will become less upsetting so that you are no longer reliving the feelings, images and sounds related to the traumatic event that occurred.
How fast does EMDR therapy work?
Quick answer: It depends. I have seen clients find relief in just 10 sessions and others I’ve been working with for over a year.
Long answer: The length of treatment is going to be vastly different for each person depending on the extent of their trauma, emotion regulation skills, feeling of safety in the world, ability to trust the therapist, beliefs that block access to the trauma, etc.
If you google it, there are research studies that will tell you about cases in which it took less than 2 months and for some people, that can be realistic, but those folks typically have one traumatic experience they’re working on, great support systems, and are ready to jump in with both feet on day one.
For most folks I’ve worked with, the length of treatment looks pretty similar to other forms of therapy…but with far more potent and long-lasting results. In six months to a year, I’ve seen clients’ lives change dramatically–their need for destructive coping strategies (drugs, alcohol, etc) is eliminated, they develop new goals for themselves, and their outlook is far more positive.
When we start EMDR, I ask you commit to six months so neither of us get stuck in the “it’s not better yet” thought pattern.