Mary was 8 years old when her father died in a car crash. The same accident crippled her mother for life. The family was in their car headed to visit their grandparents. To date, it is still not clear how the accident occurred. One minute they were merry, singing and laughing. The next, there was a loud noise, screeching breaks and Mary slipped into darkness. She woke up at the hospital where a doctor explained that her father had died on the spot, her mother was critically injured and her two siblings had suffered minor injuries.

As the days passed by, she slowly slipped into depression. She was the only girl and therefore very close to her father. Years later, she continually had nightmares about the accident, had difficulty concentrating, sleep evaded her and she seemed ever angry. This persisted no matter what therapy she tried. On a routine visit to her therapist, he suggested using EMDR to treat the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

What is EMDR Therapy?

It is an abbreviation for Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It is a form of therapy applied in psychotherapy. Francine Shapiro, an American psychologist, developed it in 1989. Its use in the treatment of PTSD is currently on the rise. The therapy is as successful as cognitive behavioral therapy in the treatment of chronic PTSD. The therapy aims to minimize and eliminate the long-term effects of your negative feelings and thoughts while emphasizing on the positive ones.

The American Psychiatric Association has acknowledged the therapy as a practical method in the treatment for trauma. It uses an 8-step method carried out over several sessions. The eight steps are history and treatment planning, preparation, assessment, desensitization, installation, body scan, closure and re-evaluation. The therapy uses a two-sided stimulation method to increase the function of your brain’s information processing mechanisms. This is achieved through eye movements.

Where is The Therapy Applied?

Certified experts trained and certified by EMDR International Association administer the therapy, they are to provide the guidance necessary in obtaining positive results. The therapy is useful in the following areas:

  1. Emotional problems such as Post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder and panic disorder. It is also useful in eating disorders, sexual and substance addiction, grief, low self-esteem and anger problems.
  2. Physical condition like sleep problems, sexual dysfunction, skin conditions and allergies, weight issues, teeth grinding, chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines, fibromyalgia and life-challenging illnesses or injuries.
  3. Issues such as Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or Attention deficit disorder (ADD), behavioral problems in children, school performance, marital conflicts and intimacy concerns

What Does a Session Involve?

During a typical therapy session, the therapist will move a finger in front of your eyes. You will follow the finger as it moves from left to right. In the second part, you will listen to a sound, track finger movements and recall a memory. As you focus on the memory, images come to life which your eye movements process. The therapist then instructs you to begin thinking pleasant thoughts while tracking finger movement. You are required to rate your anxiety level at the beginning and at the end of the session. As this is happening, your brain is re-experiencing and reprocessing your painful trauma. A session lasts between 50-90 minutes and the number of sessions needed depends on how traumatic your experience was. You will observe changes after only a few sessions.

Benefits of Therapy

Research conducted on EMDR has established many known benefits. Some of the well-noted ones include:

  1. Elimination of symptoms in combat veterans resistant to treatment in the past
  2. Sexual dysfunction victims progressing to healthy sexual relationships
  3. Patients suffering from dissociative disorders show faster progress than those on other treatment methods
  4. A significant reduction in the disturbance of individuals violently assaulted
  5. An absence of phobias and panic disorder behavior where it previously existed
  6. Eradication of trauma symptoms in children affected by assault or natural disasters

Other than these, benefits are:

  • It will help you identify your past traumatic events so you can begin healing
  • It is proven to be a fast method offering relief quickly while remaining effective
  • EMDR assists you to identify and separate the cause from the effect hence enabling you to deal with the problem’s source
  • The therapy reproduces the REM (Rapid eye movement) cycle of sleep which helps your mind heal while relaxing your body

What are EMDR Therapy Side Effects?

EMDR therapy reviews indicate that this therapy is generally safe for majority of the population. However, there are some side effects, which include:

  • It has the ability to reawaken a memory very strongly so that you end up experiencing the same emotions and feelings like you did when the incident occurred.
  • It may cause bad memories to become faraway and blurred. This is good for you but may interfere with court proceedings where you need to testify.
  • Increased temporary anxiety

The Need for Psychotherapy in PTSD

The American Psychiatric Association considers EMDR therapy for PTSD to be effective in reducing and eliminating symptoms. It is believed particularly useful for patients unable to discuss traumatic events in their past. Your psychologist can safely use the therapy as the first-line treatment for PTSD. It is as effective as serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) or exposure therapy in treating PTSD especially during follow-up and after treatment. SSRI are drugs used to treat anxiety and depressive disorders. The therapy works swiftly to help you reduce and eliminate graphic, undesirable and recurring traumatic events and memories.

The World Health Organization recommends EMDR therapy and trauma-focused CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) as exclusive psychotherapies for patients suffering from PTSD. The department of Veterans Affairs and the department of Defense highly recommend EMDR therapy for PTSD for military and non-military people. It would interest you to know that the therapy has proven equally effective for PTSD treatment compared to other psychological methods e.g. cognitive behavioral therapy. In phase 6 (body scan) the therapy allows you to experience physical recovery on top of psychological recovery.

If you suffer from PTSD or any other condition that EMDR can treat, please do not hesitate to try the therapy. With the benefits far outweighing the side effects, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.


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Author: Self Healing Institute

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