EMDR is a pioneering treatment that was originally developed to help ease trauma and PTSD symptoms. It is unlike any other kind of therapy out there: instead of relying on simply talking to process emotions, the therapist teaches the patient a pattern of rapid eye movement that is thought to help lower the intensity of traumatic memories. Although EMDR is less than 30 years old, there have been a wide variety of studies done that back up its efficacy, particularly for PTSD symptoms. There are a variety of reasons why EMDR is thought to be effective, including possible connections with the REM stage of sleep, and scientists continue to study why this breakthrough treatment can be so effective. Therapists and researchers are now exploring using EMDR for other emotional problems, like anxiety and depression.
How Can EMDR Help?
Because EMDR involves re-visiting what can be very upsetting memories, the therapist will first spend a few sessions with the patient developing treatment goals, establishing trust, and teaching techniques to deal with the strong feelings that may come up when the trauma is re-processed. Sessions can last up to 90 minutes, which is longer than more traditional talk-based therapies. During the actual EMDR treatment, the patient will recite a traumatizing memory while moving his/her eyes rapidly back-and-forth to track the movement of the therapist’s hand. Sometimes other stimulation like tapping or sounds is used instead of movement. The “desensitization” part of EMDR involves exploring associations with traumatic memories and learning how to to resolve or “unlearn” the connections that the brain has made, which ultimately gives traumatic memories less power. During reprocessing, the EMDR therapist will work with the patient to re-form negative thought patterns (“I will never recover”) into positive ones (“I can and will heal”).