With so many options for therapy, why EMDR? Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy approach that incorporates protocols to help clients to reprocess emotionally activated memories into appropriate memory networks by connecting with adaptive information.
A client presents with a trauma that is causing intrusive thoughts and disruptive emotions. The therapist will conduct bilateral stimulation (i.e. rapid eye movements, alternate tapping, etc.) while the client is thinking about that memory. The stimulation will help the disturbing memory integrate with other more adaptive memories. This process may take several rounds of stimulation during a session. Several sessions may be needed to fully integrate a memory. When the memory is fully integrated, that client will have a neutral or positive emotion when thinking of that initial disturbing memory.
So, again, why EMDR?
- EMDR integrates many psychological theories including psychodynamic, behavioral approaches, and cognitive behavioral theory. In terms of psychodynamic theory, EMDR clients search their memory banks, which may include retrieving childhood memories. During the stimulation, memories that may have been in the subconscious mind are quickly brought to the conscious mind and reprocessed. In addition, EMDR incorporates the idea of “blocking beliefs,” which are very similar to defense mechanisms in that they prevent the client from reaching uncomfortable emotions.
Behavioral theories are based on the learning by association. Individuals learn how to behave based on triggers or responses. Often, individuals seeking therapy are conditioned to respond to a stimulus due to a traumatic situation. Some behaviorists choose to treat that response with exposure to the trigger in an effort to minimize the response. EMDR uses a similar theory in that the client is asked to think about the traumatic incident. However, with EMDR, the client is asked to hold on to that memory for a short time, whereas other behavioral theories require that the client be exposed to the trauma for a significant amount of time.
Finally, EMDR borrows theories from cognitive behavioral therapy in that the clients focus on the negative and positive conceptions of themselves. The client works to change the negative and fully engage in the positive self-concept. These are just three examples of the theories incorporated into EMDR.
- Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of EMDR. Much of the EMDR research has studied clients suffering from PTSD, particularly veterans. However, studies proving the efficacy of EMDR have been conducted on clients struggling with addictions, excessive grief, developmental traumas, sexual dysfunction, and dissociative disorders, to name a few. In addition, the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Defense have cited EMDR as an approved therapy. Finally, in order to maintain continuity among providers and ensure ethical practices, the EDMR International Association (EMDRIA) was created. More information can be found at emdria.org.
- EMDR follows very specific protocols. While many psychotherapies allow for differing therapeutic interventions at various times, EMDR has a specific list of information to be gathered, questions to be asked, and actions to be conducted. In addition, protocols are in place for specific instances, such as dissociative disorders or addictions. These protocols have been studied, reviewed, and edited based on clinical observations, anecdotal information, and research studies. This regimented set of instructions allows for continuity among treatment providers and can yield results in less time than other traditional therapies.
While the specific brain mechanisms at work during EMDR are not fully understood, the results are outstanding. EMDR is a psychotherapy approach that has been helping clients struggling with traumas, addictions, personality disorders, and other mental health issues for three decades. For the reasons listed above, and many others, I have decided to embark on the road to becoming a certified EMDR therapist.
In order to obtain certification, therapists must be independently licensed, participate in numerous EMDRIA approved trainings, and attain individual and group supervision hours. Generally, EMDR certification is a 1-2 year process. I have completed the basic training, and have been utilizing EMDR therapy with clients.
If you, or someone that you love, has been unable to find healing from a trauma, please consider EMDR. Additional information can be found at the following web sites:
The final link is to an interview with Francine Shapiro, PhD, who is the originator and creator of EMDR.
The information in this article was obtained from: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures, 2nd Ed., (2001), by Francine Shapiro, PhD.
Tara Soligan is a Licensed Professional Counselor with Insight Into Action Therapy. She has decided to pursue EMDR certification with the hopes of incorporating EMDR into her eclectic therapeutic style to help clients struggling with addictions, traumas, and anxiety. For more information, you can reach Tara at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 703-646-7664×5.