EMDR is an amazing therapy that helps people resolve anxiety and trauma by getting at the root of the issue. Generally speaking, it works quickly and those who complete EMDR therapy reach therapeutic goals quicker than when engaged in talk therapy alone. At MVP, many of our clients choose to integrate EMDR into their therapy. This blog post was written to describe the process.
In Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) there is a set of standard protocols that are followed. These protocols can span over the course of multiple sessions. The amount of time it takes to complete treatment with EMDR varies on the complexity of the trauma, but usually if there is only one traumatic event, it can be resolved quickly. If the person has a long history of trauma or multiple traumas in their life, reprocessing can take much longer.
In this phase, you will go over the specific problem that has brought you to therapy. Your therapist will then develop a treatment plan and identify the targets to use EMDR therapy with. The targets are usually the events from the past that have created the problem you are coming to therapy for.
If you do not already have tools you use to self-sooth when you get emotionally upset, you will develop some tools. These techniques can be used in everyday instances when you need to be calmed. During this part of therapy you will also learn more about how EMDR works and get any questions you have answered.
During this phase of EMDR, you become clear on the event you target for reprocessing. You then choose a statement that defines a negative belief about yourself that comes up when you think about the event. (i.e., I am helpless, I am unsafe, I am worthless). Next you identify a positive statement you would rather believe (i.e., I am in control, I am safe, I am worthy). You are then asked to identify negative physical sensations you feel in your body when you think about the event. Finally, you are asked to rate your beliefs and emotions when you picture the event.
Now you are ready to reprocess the target situation. You will either hold buzzers that vibrate or engage in bilateral eye movements as your therapist directs you through the process. This bilateral stimulation mimics REM sleep. You will continue in this phase until the level of disturbance is no longer disturbing.
Once the memory is no longer disturbing, you will be guided through reprocessing your memory, but now you will be guided to hold in mind the memory and the positive belief you would like to have. Once you are no longer upset by the memory and you feel confident about the positive belief about yourself when thinking about the memory, you will be guided to scan your body.
The body scan phase in EMDR therapy is one of the last stages in the reprocessing process. At this stage, your memory has been reprocessed and is no longer disturbing and ideally, you have a more positive outlook on the experience. You will then be guided to scan your body for any pain or discomfort. If you do feel any pain or discomfort, it will be addressed until resolved. Because the body stores trauma in our cells, it is possible that something related to the trauma continues to stick around, even after going through the stages. Once you no longer feel any pain or discomfort in your body, the body scan phase is considered complete.
This is commonly referred to as the closure stage. In this stage you will be asked to keep a log of events over the course of the week. Things may come up between sessions that may be related to the trauma and this log can serve as a reminder to you to use the self-soothing techniques learned in stage 2.
This is final phase of EMDR. In this phase, you will review your treatment progress with your therapist and identify any other potential targets to reprocess. In stage 8, you may review current and past events that cause stress and determine if those events would be appropriate targets to reprocess or you may decide that you have reprocessed all of the targets you wish to reprocess and can conclude EMDR with your therapist.
If you have any questions about how EMDR can help you, please reach out and call us at 720-583-9332.
Written by Tanja Gorenc, MA
Tanja Gorenc, M.A., is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Candidate. She is training in both neurofeedback and EMDR.
As a marriage and family therapist, she takes a systemic approach to therapy, meaning she looks at the entire family system when working with clients. She has experience in working with children, adolescents, couples, and families, all of whom she enjoys working with very much.