Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy works to help people alter the emotional distress they feel from highly negative or painful life experiences. EMDR works with individuals as they remember painful memories to reprocess them in a way that allows them to heal from their experiences. Certain aspects of EMDR involve bilateral stimulation which can include having the client following the therapist’s hand from right to left as the recall a painful experience. The theory is that this type of stimulation used during this time can allow individuals to reprocess certain experiences leading to more emotional regulation.
EMDR is most often used to aid in dealing with trauma. For those who have been through trauma, especially someone diagnosed with PTSD, they are often plagued by a flooding of painful images and emotions after they are triggered. Those experiences can become so overwhelming that they inhibit a person’s ability to live their life. In EMDR, those images and a person’s response to those images are seen as a block preventing someone from being able to heal from their trauma. Over time, the individual learns to reprocess their trauma and develop skills to deal with future emotions and situations. The main focus of EMDR would involve helping a person remove the block, reprocess the painful memory, increase emotional regulation, and move towards healing from their trauma.
There are 8 phases of EMDR:
Phase 1: The therapist helps identify certain distressing images or situations to focus on. These will become the targets for the reprocessing phase of EMDR.
Phase 2: Clients learn to reduce and manage stress differently. Therapists can teach techniques that can be used both in and out of sessions.
Phases 3-6: A distressing image or situation is identified as the target of reprocessing. The reprocessing aspect of EMDR involves: the image or memory, the negative beliefs the individual has about themselves, and emotions or experiences associated with the image or memory as well as a positive belief. Clients focus on the image, belief, and feeling as they engage in bilateral stimulation. At the end, the client shares what comes to mind next and the process is repeated. Once the client reports experiencing no emotional distress related to the image, they are asked to recall the positive thought mentioned at the beginning. The client can continue to utilize that positive thought in subsequent sessions while recalling painful imageries.
Phase 7: The client writes down when they experienced moments reminiscent of past experiences which can remind them to utilize the skills they developed in previous phases.
Phase 8: It involves reflecting on the progress made throughout the sessions and recognizing the different ways in which the client has learned to respond.
The purpose of EMDR is to help clients free themselves from
the burden trauma can bring. Clients learn to reprocess their own experiences
and develop skills to regulate emotions. Due to its effectiveness found in
research, EMDR has become a highly recommended form of treatment, particularly
for clients hurting from trauma.
Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.