How Rapid Eye Movement Therapy Has Helped PTSD Patients
Few PTSD treatment modalities have received as much attention as rapid eye movement therapy. While the name of the treatment may sound obscure, rapid eye movement therapy, also known as EMDR, has been verified by numerous research studies and professional organizations as a treatment that helps PTSD patients.
What Is Rapid Eye Movement Therapy?
More commonly known as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), this form of therapy helps individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to process their painful memories quickly and successfully. EMDR is a form of psychotherapy that activates certain parts of the brain to provide a more efficient treatment for PTSD. What used to take years to treat through talk therapy now takes only a handful of sessions using EMDR therapy.
During an EMDR session, a therapist who has been specifically trained in EMDR therapy will ask a patient to sit in a comfortable position on a couch or in a chair. Next, the therapist will sit within arm’s reach of the patient and hold two of his or her fingers about four to six inches in front of the patient’s face. The patient will be asked to follow the therapist’s fingers with his or her eyes as the therapist moves her hand from side to side. This causes the patient to move his or her eyes rapidly – hence the term, rapid eye movement therapy. During this rapid eye movement, the therapist and patient will talk through painful memories or the therapist will ask the patient to think about specific details.
How Does It Work For PTSD Patients?
Rapid eye movement therapy mimics the brain activity that occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is the time of rest when an individual processes thoughts, memories and emotions from the day. EMDR therapy allows the patient to process painful memories that cause PTSD in a safe, controlled environment.
By the end of a course of EMDR therapy, most patients are able to go from a state of being horrified by their traumatic memories to a place of peace and acceptance. For example, a military veteran who witnessed horrific and life-threatening events while serving overseas may finish a course of EMDR therapy and feel grateful that he or she survived the event and be able to put the experience in the past.
Many people who successfully complete EMDR therapy no longer have disturbing thoughts, graphic dreams, or flashbacks of their traumatic event. Research continues to show that EMDR is a beneficial treatment for people suffering from PTSD and other trauma disorders such as rape trauma syndrome.
EMDR Institute, Inc. (2017). What is EMDR? https://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/
Shapiro, F. (2014). The Role of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy in Medicine: Addressing the Psychological and Physical Symptoms Stemming from Adverse Life Experiences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3951033/
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2016). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for PTSD. http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/therapy-med/emdr-for-ptsd.asp