Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is considered somewhat unorthodox compared to more commonly applied therapies for emotional distress and medical conditions. It addresses various mental health issues stemming from negative cognitions. Still, a growing body of research suggests it is a powerful therapeutic approach to address an array of conditions.
If you’re struggling with a mental health condition, you may wonder whether you’re a good candidate for EMDR. Will it help you with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Is it an effective treatment for anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, or clinical depression? Let’s dive deeper to determine who’ll benefit from this treatment approach and what results can be anticipated.
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What’s EMDR Therapy and How Does It Work?
Eye movement desensitization was initially developed in 1987 by Francine Shapiro. The main purpose of this method was to address post-traumatic stress disorder. Eventually, the scope of this type of trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy was expanded.
The symptoms of PTSD and various other mental health conditions are often rooted in past disturbing events and hurtful memories. These unprocessed memories bring up feelings of sadness, anger, rejection, frustration, and panic that are often too overwhelming to process.
So, how exactly does EMDR work, and what are its basic principles for addressing such a wide range of subjective distress symptoms? The idea is that eye movement (or various other types of bilateral stimulation) can be used to “desensitize” a person to traumatic memories and prevent the negative effect they’re otherwise bound to have (negative cognition).
Over time, enough evidence has been collected to support the effectiveness of EMDR as a form of behavioral therapy. The scope of the original research on posttraumatic stress disorder was expanded to include anxiety, clinical depression, and panic attacks. People suffering from all these conditions may experience alleviation of their negative symptoms after undergoing an appropriate number of EMDR sessions.
The Profile of a Good EMDR Therapy Candidate
The benefits of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy are numerous:
- It doesn’t require discussing and going into detail about past trauma or upsetting memories – a major difference from regular talk therapy.
- It improves cognition.
- It gives individuals conscious control over traumatic events and the way they are perceived.
- Successfully completing a therapeutic course can help with the setting of improved boundaries, increased levels of self-awareness, and more confidence.
Understanding these advantages, you’re probably wondering if EMDR will help you overcome some of the psychological trauma that’s standing in the way of optimal functioning.
The question can be answered in several ways. For a start, here’s a list of the conditions that EMDR can help with:
- Various personality disorders
- Panic attacks
- Excess grief and sentiments of loss standing in the way of being a functioning adult
Here are a few more pointers you can use to determine if you should be looking into EMDR trauma therapy:
- You have trouble opening up.
- You’ve tried traditional therapeutic approaches, but the results aren’t as pronounced as expected.
- You are still going to traditional therapy, but you’re looking for a supplementary approach to enhance the results.
- You feel trapped in your own mind and need a sense of relief.
- You feel ready to process traumatic episodes and emotions to alleviate the associated symptoms.
One of the best ways to determine if EMDR trauma therapy is right for you is to talk to a licensed therapist and try it out for yourself. Like any other therapeutic approach, EMDR is likely to benefit some people more than others.
The good news is that testing this psychological treatment doesn’t cost you a lot in terms of discomfort and potential negative effects. The side effects of EMDR are minor and mild.
Why Is EMDR the Right Choice Over Other Therapies?
There are several reasons why EMDR may be a better choice for you over other types of trauma therapy.
For a start, it deliverslong-lasting effects, especially when compared to medicine-based therapies for intense emotional distress.
As already mentioned, EMDR doesn’t involve a lot of talking. If the idea of a traditional therapeutic session that involves opening up about distressing life experiences and past trauma terrifies you, definitely consider this alternative.
While you’ll still need to process your emotions to “reprogram” and “rewire” your brain’s response to memories, the procedure is often considered to be less stressful than having to go into extensive details about distressing events and hurtful memories.
EMDR focuses on a memory without trying to remove it. Instead, it changes the way in which the memory gets stored in the brain. By altering these pathways, EMDR will keep the memory in place without the associated emotional distress and psychological stress.
Needless to say, experiencing the benefits depends on finding the right therapist to administer EMDR. Furthermore, you should also be able to implement coping skills taught by your therapist to recall traumatic events without being overwhelmed by them.
If an experience is still very fresh and painful, talk to your EMDR therapists to discuss how to approach eye movement desensitization in a way that feels tolerable and safe.
Seeing Results: When?
The length of this kind of cognitive therapy depends on the specific situation. Depending on the complexity of your trauma, you may start to see significant treatment effects in as few as 10 to 12 sessions. You should start to notice an improvement in your emotional reaction to triggers and disturbing memories.
A single EMDR session will last anywhere between 60 and 90 minutes. You will notice the difference in a couple of sessions, and you’ll probably notice negative beliefs stemming from a trauma memory to be reduced in severity.
Be prepared to reprocess a traumatic memory during your EMDR sessions. Do keep in mind that other repressed distressing memories could also pop up as a part of the healing. If this happens, individual sessions may be prolonged to address the new elements added to the picture. In other cases, relevant memories may be processed in an upcoming session.
EMDR Therapy Results to Anticipate
If EMDR is the right form of treatment for you, there will be numerous positive effects stemming from the therapy:
- A desensitized traumatic memory
- A reduction in emotional distress, anxiety, pain, and grief related to the disturbing experiences and memories
- Overwhelming relief, especially after a successful treatment program
- A sense of calm and acceptance
- A reduction in fear and phobias connected to negative experiences and traumas
- A shift in perspective and self-perception
Remember that the information you’re trying to reprogram and rewire can still bring up feelings of sadness. These, however, will not impact your life in a debilitating way. Chances are that you’ll find yourself being much more in emotional charge. Ultimately, being in the driver’s seat will result in a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction that can help you become a happier person.
Is EMDR right for you? The answer depends on your past, whether a specific unprocessed memory is bothering you, your current treatment status, and even your personality.
If you’re looking for an alternative to traditional therapy that will offer relief from painful memories, EMDR may be a good choice for you. Give it a try and experience a session firsthand to determine whether you’d like to go on with a complete EMDR treatment course.