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EMDR Therapy: A Revolutionary Approach to Trauma Resolution

Everyone’s experiences with trauma are deeply personal and unique to them. Thus, how you react to and respond to trauma will be based on your specific experiences. Despite the individual nature of trauma, traumatic experiences are often tied to self-defeating behaviors and physical distress. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), traumatic experiences can negatively impact your physical and behavioral health. Therefore, therapeutic modalities like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy can highlight the mind-body connection in which the psychological distress of trauma manifests itself. Through EMDR therapy, you can learn how to reconnect with yourself and dismantle the impact of trauma.

At The Guest House, we know the burden of trauma can make you feel stuck. The distress of stuck trauma further manifests as self-defeating behaviors like substance misuse and abuse. However, it can be difficult to address physical distress and self-defeating behaviors when you do not recognize that trauma is stuck. Therefore, focusing on the mind-body connection in EMDR therapy can help process those difficult-to-reach memories. We believe connecting your eyes and mind with EMDR therapy will help you heal in mind, body, and spirit.

Yet, you may question what is EMDR therapy. How can EMDR therapy help you heal the body and mind?

What Is EMDR Therapy?

According to “EMDR Therapy” from the American Psychological Association (APA), EMDR therapy is a treatment developed in 1987. Dr. Francine Shapiro developed EMDR therapy to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In her work, Dr. Shapiro noted that specific eye movements seemed to help reduce the intensity of distressing thoughts and memories. The goal of EMDR therapy is to recall stressful past events and reprogram the memory. Through specific rapid eye movements, you reprogram the memory with a new positive belief.

EMDR therapy uses bilateral eye movements or other rhythmic forms to sweep across your field of vision. During a session, you are asked to think about or talk about a memory, triggers, or negative emotion related to your trauma. While thinking or talking about the painful thing, you focus on your clinician’s moving finger with your eyes. You can also utilize other forms of external stimuli during your sessions. Other external stimuli can include the tactile sensation of alternating hand taps or sound moving from ear to ear. Moreover, EMDR therapy is used to address trauma because of its approach to healing trauma through memory.

Discussing traumatic experiences is often difficult and can expose you to re-traumatization. In EMDR therapy, you are not forced to talk about your traumatic experiences in great detail. Rather EMDR therapy focuses directly on changing the emotions, thoughts, or behaviors born from trauma. Focusing directly on the way the memory has been stored can help reduce and eliminate distressing symptoms to heal.

Further, the process of reprogramming traumatic memories is particularly effective because distressing emotions make fully processing traumatic events feel impossible. Through sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and feelings, traumatic events become frozen in time. Your trauma is stuck waiting just below the surface to emerge like no time has passed. Yet, EMDR therapy can be used as an effective therapy through the guidance of the adaptive information processing (AIP) model.

Understanding the Adaptive Information Processing Model

Dr. Shapiro also developed the AIP model to understand how memories are processed. As noted in Frontiers in Psychology, the AIP model predicts that PTSD has roots in dysfunctionally stored and processed memories. Thus, the AIP model works under the notion that your brain stores typical and traumatic memories in different ways. During typical life events, your brain can smoothly process and store those events as memories. Moreover, those typical memories can be networked to connect to other memories.

Furthermore, AIP also works under the idea that healthy brains can still process and fully integrate stressful information. However, when your innate information processing system is impaired, stressful events are stored in a raw, unprocessed, and maladaptive form. Thus, during traumatic events, a networking issue occurs. There is a disconnect between what you experienced and what your brain stores in your memory. As a result, unprocessed traumatic memories impair your brain and body’s ability to recognize you are not in danger. Further, networking issues create a cycle where new experiences are linked to earlier traumatic experiences.

The linking of new experiences with your earlier trauma helps reinforce negative experiences. Thus, the AIP model notes, that dysfunctionally stored traumatic memories form a base for future maladaptive responses like substance use. Understanding how memories are processed can give you insight into how trauma gets stuck. With more insight, EMDR therapy can help you process and heal as a whole person.

However, you may wonder what an EMDR therapy session looks like. What can you expect during an EMDR therapy session? Looking at the eight phases of the treatment can highlight how a session looks and how each phase supports you.

Knowing the Phases of EMDR Therapy

EMDR therapy is broken into a structured set of eight phases. Each phase works to empower you to process trauma and build a quality life in recovery. Listed below are the eight phases of EMDR therapy that can support you in addressing your past, present, and future:

Phase 1: History-Taking

  • In this phase, you will discuss what motivated you to seek treatment, including your fears, symptoms, and behaviors
    • Helps pinpoint the target event at the root of your challenges
  • Using tools like intake questionnaires will help identify targets for treatment
  • Together, you will identify targets for your treatment and build a plan of care
    • Past traumatic memories
    • Current triggers that cause or exacerbate your distress
    • Your goals for the future
      • Address behaviors, coping mechanisms, and practices to support your future well-being

Phase 2: Preparation

  • In this phase, your clinician will help you become acclimated to the treatment and what to expect during your sessions
    • Each step of the process and its purpose are explained
  • You will practice eye movements and other processes
  • Your clinician will introduce you to self-care techniques to use during and between sessions
    • Relaxation practices
  • This stage supports building trust between you and your clinician

Phase 3: Assessment

  • In this phase, the groundwork will be set for your sessions by accessing the targeted traumatic memories
    • You are not required to relive or recall the entire memory
    • Rather you identify and assess the memory components: image, cognition, affect, and body sensation
  • Your clinician will ask you to pick a specific scene or picture that represents the traumatic event
    • You will clarify the visual image, emotions, and bodily sensations associated with the trauma
  • Then you must state a negative belief about yourself that you associate with the trauma
    • “I am weak.” “I am worthless.” “I am a bad person.”
  • You will also vocalize the emotions and physical sensations you experience in conjunction with the negative belief
    • Feeling emotions like fear, anger, and anxiety
    • Sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, and clenching your fists
  • Then you will pick a positive belief you would rather have about yourself that relates to the present moment
    • Rather than saying you are weak or in danger,  you’d say “I am strong.” or “I am safe now.”
  • After you identify your visual image and negative and positive beliefs, you will evaluate changes in emotion and cognition using two scales
    • Validity of cognition (VOC) scale: A scale  of 1 (completely false) to 7 (completely true)
      • Rate how strongly you feel the positive thought to be true about yourself now
    • Subjective units of disturbance (SUD) scale: An intensity scale of 0 (the emotion is not distressing) to 10 (the worst)
      • Before scoring, you will describe the distressing emotions you feel when you focus on the visual image
      • You will also rate and locate in your body where you feel the physical sensations when you think about the trauma

Phase 4: Desensitization

  • In this phase, you will focus on traumatic memory while engaging in rapid eye movements or other bilateral stimulations like taps and sounds
    • You will pay attention to the negative beliefs, distressing emotions, and bodily sensations that arise during the session
  • While focusing on the target image, your clinician will ask you to take note of good, bad, and neutral reactions
  • After each set of movements, your clinician will assess the level of distress you are feeling about the target image
  • You will work in this phase until your distress level on the SUD scale is reduced to 0 or 1

Phase 5: Installation

  • In this phase, the goal is to help you strengthen your belief in the positive belief until you accept it as true
  • You will focus on the positive belief you have identified to replace your negative belief about your trauma while using your eyes to track your clinician’s finger
  • After each set of eye movements, your clinician will ask you to rate the positive belief on the VOC scale
  • You will continue this phase until your rating moves to a 7

Phase 6: Body Scan

  • In this phase, you will focus on the lingering bodily sensations to identify and dismantle any residual somatic distress
  • Your clinician will ask you to think of your target event while you scan your body from head to toe
    • You will identify any bodily tension or uncomfortable physical sensations
  • If any physical signs of tension, distress, or discomfort are still present, they will be targeted for reprocessing with EMDR
  • You will continue reprocessing the lingering somatic distress until they are resolved
    • Positive self-beliefs must be believed both on the cognitive and physical level

Phase 7: Closure

  • The purpose of each EMDR therapy session is for you to leave the session feeling better than when you arrived
    • However, you may experience roadblocks or other obstacles during a session that hinder reprocessing the trauma
  • Typically closure can have two courses: completed target memory session and incomplete target memory session
    • A completed target memory session means you achieved two neutral or positive responses to your target event during the session
    • An incomplete target memory session means you were unable to achieve two neutral or positive responses
  • When you are unable to process your target memory fully, your clinician will provide instructions and techniques to use to ensure your safety until your next session
    • You will be led through self-soothing relaxation techniques to bring you back to emotional balance
    • Coping mechanisms and exercises will help you feel in control outside of your sessions
    • Your clinician will give you insight into what to expect between your sessions
      • Distressing images, thoughts, and emotions
    • You may be encouraged to keep a journal of your negative memories and thoughts throughout the week
      • Journal writing can help you maintain distance from distressing thoughts and remain calm in stressful or triggering situations in your everyday life

Phase 8: Reevaluation

  • Every new session will start with a reevaluation of your progress
  • You will focus on the targets you have already reprocessed so your clinician can evaluate your current emotional and psychological state
  • Your clinician will review your responses to the old targets to determine if you have maintained the positive results
  • You will also be asked how you feel about the targets
  • Then you will discuss any memories and negative emotions that have come up between sessions
  • The reevaluation will help your clinician determine whether you are ready to move on to new targets or return to the old targets for additional reprocessing and integration
    • When you are ready to move on to new targets, you and your clinician will identify new targets for the current session
    • If you need some additional time reprocessing previous targets, you will work with your clinician to determine what new techniques or treatments might be needed to address your issues

Looking at the phases showcases EMDR therapy’s effectiveness for digging into those difficult-to-reach pieces of the self.

Benefits of EMDR Therapy for PTSD and Other Disorders

EMDR has been beneficial for addressing difficult-to-reach symptoms found in PTSD and other conditions. One of the difficulties of treating trauma is the level of distress that comes with trying to process those painful experiences. However, EMDR therapy creates a safe space where you can address those distressing memories with less stress.

Moreover, the faster pace of EMDR can help you break through difficult experiences and see positive results with less frustration when you hit roadblocks. Furthermore, EMDR therapy has expanded beyond PTSD to support other conditions as well. Listed below are some of the other disorders and conditions EMDR therapy can be used to treat:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders: Including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), panic disorder (PD)
  • Chronic stress
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Chronic pain
  • Eating disorders: Including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa
  • Personality disorders: Including borderline personality disorder (BPD) and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)
  • Dissociative disorders: Including depersonalization-derealization disorder (DDD) and dissociative identity disorder (DID)

The number of other disorders and conditions EMDR therapy can treat showcases that EMDR can be supportive whether trauma is or is not a strong factor in your distress. As pointed out in another article from Frontier in Psychology, EMDR has been particularly positive for pain, anxiety, mood, and stress. The use of EMDR in other disorders like anxiety and depression speaks to a common mechanism across disorders.

At the core of the work in EMDR therapy is identifying targets for distressing memories. Whether your dysfunctionally stored memories are from the past, remembered present, or prospective memory failures, EMDR can help you recognize and process distressing, memories, thoughts, and emotions. Understanding the core of EMDR therapy highlights its value as a support tool that can be used in conjunction with other holistic modalities.

Supporting Holistic Healing With Integration at The Guest House

In particular, EMDR can work effectively with holistic modalities like somatic experiencing (SE) and attachment work to treat trauma. At its core, SE recognizes that trauma can get stuck in the body. Therefore, SE focuses on using techniques to support bodily awareness of the physical sensations of struck trauma. Together SE and EMDR can incorporate each other’s tools like guided imagery and sensation to address physical and cognitive symptoms of distress.

Further, EMDR and attachment-focused work can utilize phase 2 of EMDR to treat attachment trauma. Together, EMDR and attachment-focused therapy can address the attachment deficits that impede tolerance for reprocessing traumatic memories. By fostering the therapeutic alliance in phase 2 of EMDR, you can increase healthy interactions in your attachment relationships to heal. Therefore, at The Guest House, we are committed to providing a wide range of therapeutic modalities to meet you where you are on your recovery journey. There is no one right way to heal, so you deserve access to a variety of holistic tools to support your specific needs to thrive in recovery.

Trauma often manifests itself as physical sensations and self-defeating behaviors born from maladaptive strategies formed in dysfunctionally stored traumatic memories. However, therapeutic modalities like EMDR therapy can support reprocessing trauma and recovery with rapid eye movement and replacing negative self-beliefs related to the trauma with positive self-beliefs. By working through the eight phases of EMDR, you can build the coping skills and adaptive strategies you need to resolve trauma and lead a fulfilling life. Therefore, at The Guest House, we are committed to providing a wide range of therapeutic modalities like SE and attachment work that can be used in conjunction with EMDR to address your specific needs for healing. Call us at (855) 483-7800 to learn more today.