What is EMDR Therapy and How Can It Help?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an increasingly popular psychotherapy technique used to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unlike talk therapy methods, EMDR does not require patients to extensively describe or verbalize their traumatic experiences.
So how does EMDR work? Here are the basics:
- Patients follow a therapist’s hand movements while recalling traumatic memories and sensations
- The bilateral stimulation activates the brain's information processing systems and facilitates trauma recovery
- Over time, memories of the traumatic events lose their power and physiological responses are reduced
The benefits of EMDR for PTSD treatment include:
- Reduced PTSD and anxiety symptoms
- Fewer and less distressing trauma memories
- Increased ability to manage emotions and reactions
Processing Trauma Without Words
A major advantage of EMDR is that it can effectively treat trauma without requiring the patient to verbally recount their experience in detail. There are several reasons for this:
More Accessible Than Talk Therapy
- Talk therapy often asks patients to extensively describe traumatic events - this can be re-traumatizing and overwhelming for some
- EMDR bypasses need for verbalization, making treatment more accessible
Bypasses Verbal Areas of The Brain
- EMDR appears to stimulate the limbic system, which processes emotions and memories, more directly
- Traumatic memories can get processed without complex verbalization or conscious recall
EMDR Allows Trauma Processing Without Conscious Memory Recall
EMDR enables trauma processing through different neurological channels compared to talk therapy methods. This means positive treatment effects happen even if the patient struggles with fully remembering or describing past events.
How does EMDR work without requiring detailed trauma memory recall?
More Implicit Processing
- The bilateral stimulation unlocks traumatic memories even if stored at an implicit level
- These memories then get properly consolidated and processed without reaching conscious awareness
Limbic System Activation
- Areas like the amygdala and hippocampus get activated, allowing "lower level" trauma resolution
- Consciously accessing memories through the thinking/language parts of the brain isn't required
Breaking Through Roadblocks to Healing
While many talk therapies for PTSD rely on patients verbally recounting trauma memories, this can be an obstacle for healing if a person is unable or unwilling to describe past disturbing events.
Fortunately, EMDR removes many of these roadblocks and offers advantages for underserved groups.
Individuals who can now receive help via EMDR include:
- Recent trauma victims in shock/denial
- Those who dissociate from painful memories
- Patients with limited ability to convey trauma verbally
- Survivors who fear stigma if describing certain experiences
By giving more treatment options beyond verbal therapies, EMDR expands access to help for large previously underserved groups of PTSD sufferers.
EMDR expands treatment options greatly for PTSD patients who find verbal therapies difficult or impossible. By tapping into primal areas of the brain, EMDR reaches trauma blocked from conscious awareness andFinally, if standard talk therapy has not helped your PTSD, consider exploring EMDR as it may provide the relief you need.
Frequently Asked Questions About EMDR
Is EMDR suitable for all types of trauma?
Yes, EMDR has been used to successfully treat PTSD from all types of traumatic events including combat, sexual assault, childhood abuse, grief, and natural disasters.
How long does an average EMDR treatment program take?
While every case is unique, most patients see results within 6-12 sessions. Positive effects are often noticed after the very first session.
Is there any preparation needed for an EMDR session?
Your therapist will guide you through any necessary preparation to ensure you feel sufficiently ready and grounded ahead of your first bilateral stimulation experience. They may teach you some relaxation or coping techniques.
What sensations will I experience during the eye movements or alternate bilateral stimulation?
Most patients report the eye movements feeling a little strange at first but fairly quickly they fade into the background. You may experience some tingling, body tension releases, stomach gurgling or other sensations - which is very normal.
Could EMDR bring up false memories like “repressed” memories that never actually happened?
Extensive research shows EMDR does not create false memories. The eye movements simply help activate the brain’s information processing systems to consolidate legitimate memory networks properly.
Are there potential side effects or downsides to EMDR I should know about?
While generally very safe, you may feel a little tired, keyed up or emotional after a session. Your therapist will help you with healthy containment so you feel stable by closing a session. Make sure to alert your provider regarding any distress.