What It Is And How It Can Help Your PTSD

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Last updated on August 27, 2023 by Randy Withers

In 1987, Dr. Francine Shapiro made a chance discovery that forever changed the world of trauma therapy.

One day, while walking in a park, Dr. Shapiro noticed that her eyes made spontaneous movements while thinking about a disturbing topic. She also noticed that the emotional distress she felt from her was significantly reduced when she moved her eyes.

Curious about her discovery, Dr. Shapiro began encouraging her therapy clients to move their eyes back and forth as they thought about traumatic events they had experienced. Many of them reported something similar to Dr. Shapiro: a spontaneous decrease in distress related to her trauma.

These early sessions were just the beginning of what would later become one of the most popular trauma therapies in the world: eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.

EMDR Treatment: What It Is and How It Can Help Your PTSD

What is EMDR?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR for short) is an eight-phase therapy model. The phases of EMDR treatment are:

  1. Clinical history and treatment planning.
  2. Preparation
  3. Assessment
  4. Desensitization
  5. Facility
  6. body scan
  7. Closing
  8. Re-evaluation

Each phase has specific steps that guide the client toward their ultimate goal of treating their PTSD. Explaining each phase is beyond the scope of this article, but if you are curious about them, you can check out this article.

How does EMDR treatment work?

During a normal day, your brain is constantly processing and storing memories. Because most of these memories are unremarkable, they will be stored in your long-term memory.

When something traumatic happens, it can overwhelm the brain’s ability to process memories. These unprocessed memories often contain images, smells, sounds, emotions, thoughts, and body sensations associated with the trauma.

EMDR suggests that PTSD is caused by these unprocessed memories. Instead of being archived, they continue to generate distress while flooding the brain with memories of the trauma.

Dr. Shapiro explained this theory well when she said, “The past affects the present without us being aware of it.”

EMDR helps process memories associated with your PTSD. The key to storing these memories is something called “bilateral stimulation” (BLS).

During an EMDR session, the client will think about a traumatic memory. While they do this, the therapist will apply BLS to the client. There are many forms of BLS, such as following the therapist’s fingers back and forth with your eyes, holding a pair of gently vibrating doorbells in each hand, or listening to alternating tones with headphones.

We don’t understand why, but research shows that BLS naturally activates the brain’s ability to process trauma. There are several different theories on how it works and you can check out a list of them. here.

What is EMDR treatment like?

During your first EMDR treatment sessions, your therapist will spend time getting to know you and learning about your past. She will set goals for therapy before learning coping skills that will help her manage her PTSD.

Next, you and your therapist will identify a list of “target memories.” These are the unprocessed memories responsible for creating your PTSD.

Not sure where to start? No problem. Your therapist should be trained to guide you through several techniques that can help you identify memories that need to be processed.

After creating a list of memories, you will also identify a list of “present triggers.” These are the sights, sounds, smells, places and situations that trigger PTSD. One of the best things about EMDR is that you will not only desensitize yourself to your disturbing memories, but also to your present triggers.

Finally, it’s time to start processing. Your therapist will ask you a series of questions to “trigger” the memory you want to focus on. Activating a memory simply means that you are bringing it to your awareness so that your brain can process it.

After activating the memory, your therapist will begin applying BLS. Your job as a client is to notice what is happening to the memory. Most people report a change in their thoughts, emotions, or the mental image associated with the memory.

A useful analogy to use in the role of the client is watching the scenery go by while riding a train. Just as a train passenger is a passive observer of the world passing by quickly, the client’s job is simply to notice what is happening while their brain processes the memory.

It is normal to experience some distress during processing. However, your therapist should be trained to help you manage this distress. Is No It is normal or helpful to feel overwhelmed or inundated during processing; If you feel it, it is important to let your therapist know.

After processing each of the target memories, you will process the triggers present. You should notice a decrease in your PTSD as therapy continues, although it is very normal to notice a slight increase in symptoms after the first few EMDR sessions. Keep going and you will notice results soon!

If you want to learn more about what it’s like to experience EMDR, you can check this out video on the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) website.

What to look for in an EMDR therapist

Due to its increasing demand, many therapists are training in EMDR. However, these training courses are not created equal.

It is important to find a therapist who has received training from a credible source. Organizations like EMDRIA or the EMDR Institute Offer high-quality training for therapists interested in EMDR.

Additionally, it is important for new EMDR therapists to receive consultations to ensure that they are implementing EMDR treatment correctly.

If you are unsure of your therapist’s training or qualifications, you should ask them. They should be able to provide you with their credentials and explain why they are doing what they do. EMDR is a powerful tool and can be harmful if not implemented correctly.

Does EMDR work?

If you’re skeptical about EMDR, you’re not alone. The idea that eye movements can reduce post-traumatic stress disorder seems too good to be true. However, investigation and clients can attest that EMDR is a safe and effective option for treating PTSD.

Additionally, the American Psychological Association has given EMDR “conditional” status. recommendation for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, stating that further research may make it a “strongly” recommended trauma treatment.

Final thoughts

In summary, EMDR can be a powerful tool to help survivors recover from their trauma. We don’t know for sure why EMDR treatment works, but people around the world have benefited from it. Please note that it is important to find a competent EMDR therapist who has experience implementing this modality safely.

If you are interested in EMDR, check out websites like Psychology Today or the EMDRIA Provider Directory. You should be able to find an EMDR therapist who can help you get started.

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