EMDR Therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an evidence-based psychotherapy technique that uses eye movements to help you process traumatic memories. It’s designed to reduce symptoms of PTSD and other trauma-related disorders such as anxiety, depression and chronic pain. Unlike other types of treatment, EMDR focuses on the brain’s processing of traumatic memories instead of directly altering feelings, thoughts or behaviors.
During this phase, the healthcare provider helps you identify and focus on one or more specific upsetting memories, called “targets.” They’ll also talk to you about your current emotions and what’s triggering them. Then, they’ll use specialized light or sound devices to stimulate your vision, audio or both of them. You’ll follow the therapist’s hand with your eyes or hear audible tones that pulse back and forth on either side of your body.
The EMDR therapist then helps you identify your negative beliefs about the memory and what you want to change going forward. They’ll also show you how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, according to Decker. This will make you feel more in control of the situation and increase your confidence in yourself, which can lessen your arousal to the memory.
Using the same techniques as in the assessment phase, this is the part of the therapy where you and your therapist work to remove any negative associations or emotional triggers from the traumatic memory. This can include reversing the negative belief that caused you to feel shame or helplessness after the trauma.
This process can take several sessions, so the therapist will let you know when it’s time to move on to the next step. Once the traumatic memory is no longer causing you distress, you’ll be encouraged to keep practicing these exercises on your own.
The therapist may suggest you start by taking slow, relaxed steps to access your subconscious mind and process what you’ve stored in there. She may also teach you some relaxation techniques to use during this period.
She’ll then have you focus on the memory while performing brief, standardized eye movements or other BLS (brief, standardized stimuli). Then, she’ll ask you to report to her any new thoughts that come up.
These are often painful or illogical, but the goal is to allow you to understand and process your trauma so that it doesn’t affect you anymore. After a few sessions, the traumatic memory is less likely to trigger you and your emotions are less intense.
EMDR combines elements of several different types of therapies, and it works best with people who are ready to confront their trauma and want to overcome their post-traumatic stress disorder. It can also be effective for people who have generalized anxiety or phobias, because it helps them get to the root of their fears and avoid circular thinking patterns that lead to negative self-talk and feelings of dread.