5 Ways EMDR Therapy Can Help
- Changing Memory Storage
- Deal with Past Trauma
- Deal with Present and Future Trauma
- Increase Positivity
- Full Integration
The goals of EMDR therapy are to give people the tools to deal with past, present and future trauma and to focus on the positive. EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and it involves a process of visualizing distressing events while stimulating back-and-forth eye movements or similar stimulus. While EMDR is controversial and studies on its efficacy have returned mixed results, people who have post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias or other trauma have reported success from it.
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1. Changing Memory Storage
One of the aims of EMDR is to teach a person to recall a distressing memory without being overwhelmed by emotion. However, the goal in EMDR is to change how the brain stores the memory instead of consciously trying to change the emotions or thoughts around it. This is done by having the person focus on the memory while forms of what is called bilateral stimulation, or left and right stimulation, occur in the forms of eye movement, tones or tapping. This makes the memory less vivid.
2. Deal with Past Trauma
The past trauma that EMDR treats is not limited to a single event or series of events. For example, in a case study described by the American Psychological Association, an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD was treated in relation to several distressing memories of combat he had experienced. However, the sessions also dealt with a memory he had from his childhood of being told his parents were separating. After several sessions of EMDR, the veteran reported a decrease in both physical and psychological symptoms when recalling the memories.
3. Deal with Present and Future Trauma
Another goal of EMDR therapy is to reduce distress around present-day triggers and give people the tools they need to deal with trauma in the future. As with past events, the present-day events that impede function are identified. The patient goes through a similar process of describing the incident accompanied by the bilateral stimulus. A therapist will also work with the patient to develop the necessary skills to cope with distress as a result of events in the future without needing to return to therapy.
4. Increase Positivity
One element of EMDR therapy is also the identification of a positive belief. This positive belief can serve as something the person can focus on when other distressing events arise. Allowing the patient to begin reframing even traumatic events in a positive way is another one of the goals of EMDR therapy. This was the case with the veteran in the APA case study, who shifted his belief from the idea that he failed his fellow soldiers to the belief that he did his best.
5. Full Integration
EMDR therapy is not considered complete until the patient has no mental or physical distress around past or present trauma and has the tools in place to deal with future trauma. Different responses may be necessary for these different events. While EMDR is generally considered a fairly efficient approach to dealing with trauma, efficiency is not its top goal, and a therapist will continue working with a client on memories, triggers, and preparation for the future until the client seems ready to move on.
While all trauma-related therapy generally focuses on reducing a patient’s distress, EMDR is unique in its use of bilateral stimulation. By integrating mental and physical sensations, the goals of EMDR therapy are to ultimately enable the patient to lead a balanced and fulfilling life.