The Basics of Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and How It Can Help Trauma and Recovery

The Basics of Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and How It Can Help Trauma and Recovery

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, or EMDR, was created in the 1980s by Francine Shapiro, primarily to treat PTSD symptoms. However, it has since been used to treat many ailments including anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders, depression, and addiction. During an EMDR session, the patient calls to mind an image of themselves related to a memory or traumatic event, identifies a negative belief that they have about themselves, and talks about emotions and what they feel in their body based on their thoughts. Lastly, the patient thinks about a positive belief that they have about themselves. Some common symptoms of trauma, which can be at the root of addictive behavior and other mental health conditions, include: nightmares about the event, upsetting memories, feeling as if the event is happening over and over again, physical distress, avoiding certain thoughts, feelings, activities, or places, and feeling disconnected. When trauma is not processed, or stuck in the brain, as EMDR therapists believe, it can impact your work, relationships, physical and mental health, and ability to socialize. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, EMDR might be an effective treatment option.

What is EMDR?

EMDR involves eight phases of treatment. As the name suggests, EMDR works to desensitize the brain to psychologically disruptive events in the past until they no longer cause suffering or trauma, such as flashbacks, in the individual. It’s believed that EMDR changes the brain in such a way that the patient is more able to process traumatic events or reprogram destructive patterns. EMDR is built upon the model that many psychological conditions are a result of unprocessed trauma and memories. These unprocessed events, emotions, and memories can result in psychological disturbances, damaging behaviors, PTSD symptoms, and addiction to substances or other activities. Because trauma can often be a root cause of addictive behaviors, EMDR can be an effective treatment for addiction.

The Science Behind EMDR

There is still some debate in the scientific community about the specifics of how EMDR works in the brain. Research is relatively new. However, numerous studies have found that EMDR can eliminate symptoms of PTSD. There is much anecdotal evidence that suggests EMDR is effective at treating other mental disturbances such as anxiety.

What You Can Expect in an EMDR Session

While studies show that EMDR can be quite effective, like all therapies, it’s not for everyone. Once it’s establishes that the session will be beneficial and nontraumatic for the patient, therapy can begin. Unlike hypnosis, the patient is awake and consciously aware of what’s happening for the entirety of the session. The eight phases of EMDR treatment include:

  1. History Taking

The therapist takes a thorough medical history including previous traumatic events, your goals for treatment, and any other concerns. As you go over past events, you will be asked to rate how disturbing they are to you on a scale of 0-10.

  1. Preparation

This phase is about education and awareness of the EMDR process. The therapist creates a safe space, teached you skills for stress reduction and grounding, and you will learn about bilateral stimulation, which is the main technique used in EMDR therapy.

  1. Assessment

You will discuss what you specifically want to focus on during the session. This is a collaborative process with your therapist. You will again be asked to rate the level of disturbance on a scale. You will also be asked to describe how this past memory or trauma feels in your body.

  1. Desensitization

This is where the bilateral stimulation takes place, which involves your therapist moving his or her hand back and forth from left to right as you follow it with your eyes. You will continue to call to mind your past memory, use the rating scale, and note how it feels in your body. This is where your brain actually processes the event or memory.

  1. Installation

This phase involves inputting the positive memory. You will continue to use the rating system and bodily sensations. In this phase, you install a positive association to replace the negative one.

  1. Body Scan

You will scan your body mentally and note any locations where negative sensations are still stuck. The EMDR therapist continues to use bilateral stimulation during this phase.

  1. Closure

This phase involves closing out the session, using imagery to contain any unprocessed material from the session, note any bodily sensations, and return to a safe space.

  1. Reevaluation

Your therapist will reevaluate your levels of disturbance from your previous session and check to see if the levels are neutral. The idea is that the positive association or memory remains in place, serving to cancel out the negative one. If the therapist determines that there is still work to do, the process begins again, this time beginning at stage 4.

It can be difficult to feel like there is a way out of traumatic thoughts or addictive patterns. Help is available. Recovery improves quality of life, connection, and awareness. At The Beach House, we elevate the standard of comprehensive addiction treatment. Located on the sand in Malibu, California, we provide expert clinical care and a holistic approach to the recovery process, including EMDR. We ensure Best-in-Class treatment tailored to the needs of each client. Start your recovery journey today. You deserve it. Call or text: 310-862-6845.

Kimberly James

I am the founder and owner of The Beach House Treatment Center, The White House, Indigo Ranch, Sweetwater Mesa and Beach House Center for Wellness, all in Malibu, California.