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EMDR Therapy

What is EMDR therapy? EMDR is short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This article defines EMDR therapy and explains the phases of EMDR therapy. Keep reading to see if EMDR therapy is the right treatment for you or your loved ones behavior disorder.

What Is EMDR?

The initialism EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, a type of psychotherapy that has demonstrated effectiveness in the treatment of trauma in research studies. EMDR developed from Dr. Francine Shapiro's observations in 1987 concerning the capability of eye movements to reduce the intensity level of disturbing thoughts in some situations. Dr. Shapiro undertook a research study, which was published in 1989 in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, and that began the spread of the method and the standardization of protocols.

EMDRIA (EMDR International Association) maintains a definition of EMDR, that is updated or revised periodically and is intended to be the basis of consistent training, credentialing, and clinical application of EMDR. According to the definition, the therapy rests on the observation that disturbing or traumatic events are responsible for widespread psychopathology because the person's ability to process and integrate experiences of this type is impaired by the experiences themselves. During EMDR therapy, memories of these events are activated and paired with "alternating bilateral or dual attention stimulation," a process that appears to allow normal processing and integration of experience to resume.

Results of EMDR therapy, according to the definition, include:

  • alleviating current symptoms
  • rendering the disturbing or traumatic memory or memories less distressful
  • improving self-image
  • relieving physical symptoms
  • resolving triggers that prompt reexperience of the traumatic or disturbing memory

It is known that a traumatic occurrence or even a very great upset renders a person's brain incapable of normal information processing and memories of that experience can be exceptionally potent. Such memories can influence a person's worldview and relationships. Although the actual underlying workings of EMDR are not known, it seems to be able to resolve the information processing block, reducing the power and influence of the memory, which is rendered less like a current experience. Similarities have been observed between the effects of EMDR and the experience of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.

The Basics of EMDR Therapy

EMDR therapy includes eight phases that are aimed at past memories, disturbances in the present, and actions in the future. Here are brief descriptions:

  • Phase 1: History and Treatment Planning encompasses the first one or two treatment sessions and allows the therapist to thoroughly understand the client's history and formulate target events on which to use EMDR.The events do not have to be discussed in detail, merely identified.
  • Phase 2: Preparation is undertaken next and often lasts from 1 to 4 sessions but can take longer for clients with more traumatic histories. During this phase, the therapist explains the treatment course and teaches the client the techniques of EMDR.
  • Phase 3: Assessment is the time when a specific scene or image from each target is chosen, negative emotions and physical sensations associated with it are identified,  positive beliefs related to the present are substituted for the negative ones, and the level of disturbance caused by the target is rated by the client.
  • Phase 4: Desensitization is aimed at addressing the elements identified in Phase 3, bringing in similar events in the client's life that were not originally mentioned, as applicable, and working with them until the disturbance caused by the event is resolved.
  • Phase 5: Installation strengthens the positive beliefs that the client chose to substitute for the negative ones associated with the memory/memories.
  • Phase 6: Body Scan includes a review of the target event(s), while checking to see if any body tension or other negative physical sensations arise, and if so, these are addressed.
  • Phase 7: Closure is actually a final step to every treatment session, and the choice to list it out here is somewhat misleading. The goal of each EMDR session is to leave the client feeling better than when he or she entered.
  • Phase 8: Reevaluation is actually an opening of every session, and the choice to list it out here is also somewhat misleading. During the beginning of each session, the therapist checks on the maintenance of accomplishments achieved in the prior session and notes any new developments.




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