EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and has been widely researched since its inception in the 1980s when Francine Shapiro noticed that moving her eyes from side to side seemed to reduce the occurrence of her own distressing memories. It is a psychotherapy that enables people to not only heal from the symptoms and emotional distress resulting from disturbing life experiences but has been found to be helpful with other mental health concerns.
During the sessions, EMDR can assist individuals in accessing traumatic memories, giving the patient the ability to process them. By processing the memories, the negative impact it had on the individual’s life will decrease. The goal of EMDR is that each patient will complete their EMDR therapy experience feeling empowered, and free from the fatigue caused by the previous trauma.
More recently, utilizing EMDR therapy training in sessions has been growing in popularity, which could be due to its unique process of approaching the issue more naturally, ignoring the well-known talking-therapy sessions or medications. It has been proven very successful for individuals dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other similar anxiety-driven disorders. EMDR is an evidence-based practice and has shown success in 80% of the cases in which it was practiced.
During an EMDR session, the EMDR-trained therapist will focus on rhythmic eye movements caused either by the therapist moving their finger in front of the patient’s face, having them follow the movement with their eyes, or through a machine with lights moving back and forth. While the patient focuses on moving their eyes, the therapist will ask to recall a disturbing event and the emotions that come along with it. This is done because remembering a frightening experience is usually less distressing for the individual when the focus is shifted elsewhere. Over time, the impact the memories have on the individual’s mind and body should lessen. After the impact softens (desensitize), the EMDR-trained therapist usually leads the patient into the installation phase. During that phase, the therapist will help the patient shift their current negative thoughts to a more enjoyable memory, which should lead to a harmful memory replacement with a positive vision.
The client is asked to rate their anxiety level regarding the traumatic event after each session, and usually, each session reduces the intensity of the negative memory.
EMDR can help treat other mental health struggles as well, like
Feelings of shame and guilt
Lack of motivation
Fear of being alone
Difficulty with trusting others
The Goals and Outcomes of EMDR
The foundations of EMDR indicate that the mind can heal from psychological trauma in a manner that’s similar to the body recovering from physical injury. The brain is designed to naturally collect positive memories, causing a healthy mental state. That procedure can be interrupted by the impact of a traumatic event, continually wanting to resurface. Those negative memories prevent the brain from “healing” the mind and need to be dealt with. And that is what EMDR focuses on. To help with reducing those negative emotions (“irritations of a wound”) to give the brain the necessary foundation to start the healing process.