When someone experiences trauma, it can get trapped in the psyche. This trapped trauma can cause continued distress and disruption to a person’s life long after the trauma occurs.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, commonly referred to as EMDR, is an information-processing technique used to diminish the distress caused by exposure to traumatic events. EMDR focuses on retrieving, processing and resolving any past experiences that contribute in a negative way to a client’s current experience, including intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, anxiety, panic attacks, overwhelming emotion and physiological symptoms of fear.
This trauma therapy has been accepted by multiple therapeutic organizations including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the Veteran’s Administration as an effective and highly recommended treatment for individuals struggling with trauma.
What It Is:
Specially trained EMDR therapists use experiential techniques to engage clients in dual processing, which engages both the left and right sides of the brain. Clients bring up a negative mental image, feeling, belief or physical sensation while simultaneously focusing on an additional stimulus created by the EMDR practitioner. This additional stimulus may involve tracking the practitioner’s finger movements, tapping, listening to an auditory tone or another type of sensory cue developed to gain and hold attention during the EMDR process. The rapid eye movements and accompanying processing can help to de-condition trauma responses.
How It Helps:
Even though clients aren’t currently experiencing trauma, past trauma can create the same physical and mental reactions in the present. EMDR helps lessen trauma-related symptoms by targeting the underlying negative beliefs, memories and feelings that contribute to these present symptoms and replacing them with more positive, appropriate ones.
For example, for clients who experience trauma flashbacks, EMDR therapists can access the belief they are in danger, which is no longer true, and replace it with the belief they are safe, which will greatly reduce the anxiety associated with the trauma.
Clients who engage in EMDR often experience a significant reduction in trauma-related symptoms. They increase their awareness of triggers, stress responses and beliefs that contribute to their distress and learn new ways to self-soothe and calm themselves when experiencing trauma symptoms.
A large body of controlled studies has supported the effectiveness of EMDR as a trauma treatment. For example, a 1997 study of sexual assault victims reported a 90% decrease in PTSD after just three 90-minute EMDR sessions. And a 2004 study found that 77% of those with multiple traumas and 100% of those whose trauma sprang from a single source no longer had PTSD after an average of six 50-minute EMDR sessions.
Other benefits include:
- Decreased anxiety and panic attacks
- Decrease in intrusive thoughts
- Increased feelings of calm and well-being
- Decreased episodes of flashbacks or re-experienced trauma
- Increased confidence
- Increased ability to participate in life
- Decreased incidents of trauma interfering with current experience
- Greater understanding and acceptance of past trauma