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  • Agnes Wohl


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and why it is helpful to Trauma Survivors

Trauma has a significant impact on a person’s mind, body, spirit, and behavior. EMDR is an excellent treatment option for trauma with concurrent symptoms such as anxiety, depression, pain, fear, eating disorders, self-harm, and substance use.

What is EMDR?

EMDR is a structured method that uses bilateral stimulation to take the patient through an eight-phase treatment that assists them with distressing memories, anxiety, and other trauma-related symptoms. EMDR is an evidence-based therapeutic intervention which, after taking a careful history, helps the client in tolerating, consolidating, and digesting traumatic memories.

As the process progresses, the bilateral stimulation elicits repressed information, reprocessing within the therapy’s remaining seven phases. Francine Shapiro, the psychologist and educator who originated and developed the EMDR process introduced this treatment method for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Now, trained therapists use EMDR for a wide variety of issues.

Why is it helpful for trauma survivors?

  1. History Taking: the first phase is attaining a detailed history about the client that identifies the readiness for treatment, healing, and prognosis and helps in treatment planning. We establish a sequence to prioritize target memories or dysfunctional patterns, which becomes the blueprint for the treatment.

  2. Client Preparation: in this phase, we create a therapeutic alliance between the therapist and the client. It is vital to establish reasonable expectations between the client and therapist. The client further receives self-soothing and emotional regulation strategies: this helps maintain stability in the client’s functioning and lays the groundwork for the next phase. The therapist will give instructions about using metaphors and stop signals to provide a sense of control. The client also learns about the active processing of traumatic symptoms.

  3. Assessment: in these sessions, the client and therapist work together towards the target memory. With that memory, an image is associated and related to negative beliefs. After that, we develop insights into irrational beliefs. Emotional and physical sensations are verbally elicited. Then the positive emotions and “cognitive interweaves” (resources) are suggested.

  4. Desensitization: Elicit insight. The emotional and physical sensations are again measured and evaluated to monitor the progress. We continue with techniques as needed. The use of a stimulus also continues, such as tapping, alternating lights, eye movements, or sounds.

  5. Installation: With deep breathing, a set of eye movements or other bilateral stimulation is used simultaneously with target images. After each set of movements, dysfunctional memories are worked through, digested, and we replace traumatic memories with less activity and more functional interruptions.

  6. Body Scan: the focus on the body identifying any distress in the body missed in the processing, then it will again be reprocessed using sets of bilateral stimulation.

  7. Closure: self-regulation techniques are taught again for long-term effectiveness and stability.

  8. Reevaluation of Treatment: the original target is again brought up and reassessed to be sure it is no longer a charged memory.

As time passes, this treatment method gained much attention and professional recognition. Therapists trained in EMDR utilize this technique for trauma and various other psychological issues. The acceptance of the working strategy of EMDR has proven its efficacy. It is considered an evidence-based treatment for a wide range of populations.

The dissociative spectrum is best treated with bilateral stimulation. When we experience dissociative responses, our corpus callosum is underactive, which prevents the left and right hemispheres of our brain from communicating with one another. This causes encapsulated and stuck memory. With bilateral stimulation, we bring the corpus callosum back to life, allowing for memories to begin integrating again so that our neocortex can process them into an uncharged narrative.

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