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How Does EMDR Work?

Nov 7, 2022

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) relies on eye movements to process and release traumatic memories. As these memories have been stored in the brain in a specific way, their resurfacing tends to make a person feel like they’re reliving the same painful experience each time. The goal of EMDR is to consciously process the actual memory without the intense emotional experience that’s been accompanying it. The entire process is divided into eight phases, beginning with history-taking and preparation, followed by assessing the target memory, and then desensitization, reaction, installation, and closure.

TV viewers may have been exposed to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) through shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Russian Doll. Yet, these fictional programs tend to oversimplify the EMDR process in their quest for quicker storytelling. EMDR can be a valuable tool in the treatment of trauma, so it’s important to know in advance what it involves and how it works. In this blog we will look at EMDR as a potential treatment option for people coming to Origins Counseling Dallas.

What is EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. People with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders, and substance use disorders have found help through EMDR therapy. It started in the 80s as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. EMDR is conducted by a mental health professional trained in this particular type of therapy.

How does EMDR work?

A therapist facilitating an EMDR session guides you into choosing a particular traumatic memory to start. Rather than talking about how you feel about that memory, your job is to mentally focus on the memory while following a prompt to perform side-to-side eye movements. In using both sides of the brain, you begin processing a memory with logic and reason from the left side and emotion from the right side. Through these sessions, the painful images of the past become less intense and begin to be associated with the relaxed state you’re in during EMDR therapy.

What should I expect from EMDR?

EMDR is quite a bit different than what you have experienced in talk therapy. The focus on the memory doesn’t come through sharing the experience verbally. Instead, you’re splitting your focus between the memories and what you see in the environment. Another aspect of EMDR is seeing how memories can change when encoded in your brain differently.

The flow for EMDR sessions works in eight phases, beginning with history-taking and preparation. The third phase is dedicated to assessing the target memory and phases 4-7 guide patients through desensitization, reaction, installation, and closure. The final phase is used for re-evaluation. An EMDR therapist may use 6-12 sessions to move through all eight phases.

How does EMDR help in treating trauma?

The ability to remember the past in a new way is what makes EMDR a valuable tool for treating trauma. This type of therapy takes a direct approach to painful memories and aims to lower and ultimately remove the intense emotions created by those memories. Rather than attempting to forget the experience, a person actively thinks about the trauma while guided through specific steps to reframe the experience into something that no longer poses a threat. The painful images become less vivid through these sessions. Processing them in a safe environment also changes how these memories are stored.

What are the benefits of EMDR?

The benefits of EMDR include reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. These can be behavioral, with a person feeling less agitated, irritable, or hypervigilant. They may notice lower levels of anxiety and fewer flashbacks. Their mood may improve, and their sleep may no longer be marked by insomnia and nightmares routinely. Beyond trauma recovery, EMDR benefits include help in addressing fears without becoming immersed in anxiety. Self-doubt and self-criticism lessen, and it’s accessible for people who are not comfortable openly sharing their thoughts and feelings. Its efficiency in providing healing is remarkable, too. People with limited time or funding for ongoing therapy can experience lasting results from the initial 6-12 sessions.

Origins Counseling is a program in Dallas, Texas, made available by a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We provide a comprehensive diagnostic assessment and evaluation, as well as renowned clinical care for addiction. We have the compassion and professional expertise needed to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 561.841.1264.

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