EMDR therapy is a structured therapy that helps people suffering from trauma focus briefly on their trauma memory while experiencing bilateral stimulation, typically in the form of rapid eye movements. The technique is used to reduce the vividness of the trauma and the emotion associated with its memory.
At our various Braden Counseling Centers, we use EMDR therapy to treat a number of disorders, particularly those associated with post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). This form of therapy focuses directly on the specific memory, to change the way the memory is stored in the brain. The intention is to systematically reduce the traumatic memory until it dims, and problematic symptoms are eliminated. When successful, it alters the emotions, thoughts, and responses that result from the traumatic experience.
Typical Use of EMDR Therapy for Anxiety Associated with PTSD
EMDR therapy uses a structured, eight-phase process that includes:
- History taking
- Client preparation
- Assessment of traumatic memory
- Multiple steps to process target memory to adaptive resolution
- Evaluation of treatment results.
The initial processing of a specific traumatic memory usually takes one to three sessions, though more sessions are usually needed to successfully complete the entire process. Sometimes referred to as rapid eye movement therapy, EMDR does not include any extended focus or exposure to the traumatic event itself, nor does it challenge dysfunctional beliefs or assign homework. Instead, EMDR PTSD therapy attempts to lessen the memory’s impact by physically changing the way it is stored in the brain.
Phases of EMDR Therapy
Patient history and treatment planning are the first steps in using EMDR. First, one of our therapists works with you to receive a full history, then conduct an assessment and work together to identify treatment targets including past memories, current triggers, and treatment goals.
The next step is an explanation of the treatment that includes introducing the client to the various procedures, as well as teaching different imagery and stress reduction techniques that can be used during and between sessions. Maintaining client equilibrium in the face of rapid, effective change is a main goal of EMDR therapy.
During the third phase of EMDR therapy, the targeted memory is activated by identifying and assessing the components of the memory; image, cognition, affect, and body sensation. The Subjective Units of Disturbance (SUD) and the Validity of Cognition (VOC) scale are measures used during the session to evaluate changes in emotion and cognition.
During the next phases the client is first asked to identify three things:
- The vivid visual image related to the memory
- A negative belief about themselves
- Related emotions and body sensations
The client is also asked to identify a positive belief.
Following that, the client focuses on the memory while following procedures that desensitize the memory so that it is no longer distressing. They are then asked to concentrate on the positive belief while the installation phase strengthens that belief and lessens the negative thoughts.
In the next phase, referred to as the Body Scan, the client is asked to observe their physical response while thinking about both the event and the positive cognition and to identify any residual distress. If they experience any distress, additional procedures are used to process to process the disturbance.
Closing and Re-evaluating EMDR Sessions
An EMDR session finishes by assessing whether or not the targeted memory has been fully processed. If this is not the case, the therapist gives the client specific instructions and techniques to use to ensure their safety until the next session.
At that next session the therapist starts by evaluating the client’s current psychological state to see if last session’s progress has been maintained and what, if any, memories have emerged since the last session. We then work to identify targets for the current session.
The process is repeated as necessary to lessen the traumatic memory.
Does EMDR Therapy Cure PTSD?
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), EMDR therapy is effective for treating symptoms of PTSD, both acute and chronic. The APA goes on to say that EMDR therapy is particularly useful for people who have difficulty talking about the trauma that they have experienced. The APA also states that further study is required to understand the effects of EMDR therapy results over time.
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense issued a set of joint clinical practice guidelines which they strongly recommend when using EMDR for treatment of PTSD in military and non-military populations alike. The two departments noted that using EMDR therapy has shown to be as effective as other psychological treatments in a number of studies.
If you would like to find out more about this therapy alternative for PTSD, contact us today at Braden Counseling Center. We have five convenient locations in Oregon, Sycamore, Rochelle, Elgin, Geneva, and Bartlett.