EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from their symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. EMDR has been studied repeatedly in randomized controlled studies and found to be valid for the treatment of trauma. It is also commonly used to help alleviate symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, grief and mourning, attachment disorders, phobias and much more. It can be used with adults, teens and young children and should be administered by a licensed and trained mental health professional.
EMDR therapy involves attention to three time periods: the past, present and future. EMDR gives attention to past disturbing memories, present day symptoms related to the past memories and an image for a better future.
It uses an 8 phase approach to help a client prepare for safely remembering the traumatic memories while remaining aware of themselves in the present moment. EMDR uses bilateral stimulation (BLS), often the back and forth movement of the eyes or soft tapping on the hands, to create a dual attention of the brain while remembering a disturbing memory or event. The client is asked to just notice whatever comes up during the brain’s processing without attempting to control the direction or content. Researchers believe this bilateral stimulation is similar to REM sleep and the restorative processing that the brain does during this phase of sleep. Processing is continued using BLS until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with positive thoughts and beliefs about oneself; for example: “I did the best I could.”
EMDR is unique from other therapies for several reasons, one of which is that it does not require the interpretation of the therapist for progress to be made. The client’s brain is doing the processing and making the healing connections on its own through the different phases of treatment. Many clients like EMDR because it does not require them to talk about the upsetting memories in detail, reducing the risk of feeling shame or embarrassment with the therapist or violating any laws or regulations of one’s employment (law enforcement, first responders, public officials).
EMDR can be adapted and used with preverbal young children or teens who do not want to talk out loud about the upsetting issues. EMDR has been used to help children and teens deal with traumatic events, depression, anxiety, phobias and a variety of other behavioral problems.