You’ve tried various therapists who use different therapeutic techniques, but you haven’t found them to be very successful. You’re still suffering. Perhaps, you’ve heard about Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, or EMDR, before and you’re thinking about trying it. But, you want to gather some information first. Today, I want to give you some information about EMDR and talk to you about the ways our therapists use it to treat a variety of mental health concerns.
What is EMDR Therapy?
If you’re just beginning your research on EMDR, the first question your probably asking is, what is Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing anyways? Good question. Eye movement desensitization reprocessing is quite a mouthful. And, it sounds intimidating if you don’t know what it is or how it works.
EMDR can help with trauma
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) is a therapeutic intervention that can help relieve the pain caused by disturbing events. Disturbing events may include forms of trauma like sexual abuse or rape assault, they also could include assault, anaphylaxis, car accidents, or the death of a loved one. Or, this pain could be caused by a “smaller trauma or traumas” like bullying, the death of a pet, or a bad breakup. Basically, anything that overwhelms you and makes it hard to cope with the demands of your day-to-day life constitutes a disturbing event.
You can get “stuck” in trauma.
Sometimes, when traumas occur your brain has a hard time moving forward from what you experienced. When this happens, you may feel stuck. Almost like you’re mind is forcing you to relive or remember your trauma and how it felt over and over again. That may make you feel very keyed up, on guard against possible danger, or unable to relax. Or, it could mean that you have a hard time getting up in the morning and hardly have it in you to make it through the day.
Trauma can affect the way your brain functions in a variety of ways. Often this causes the left and logical side of your brain to shut down and the right or emotional side to go into overdrive. That’s your body’s way of protecting you, but it makes it hard to process what happened. Also, it causes your thoughts and actions to be driven by your impulses, urges, and emotions which can make it hard for you to cope with trauma and the symptoms of PTSD in a healthy way.
EMDR Therapy Can Help Your Brain Heal
In order for your brain to heal itself after experiencing a disturbing event or trauma, both sides of your brain, the emotional and the logical sides, need to work together and communicate. This is where EMDR is particularly helpful.
EMDR uses bilateral stimulation of the brain (right/left brain stimulation) to encourage both sides of the brain to work together. Bilateral stimulation is a fancy term for something that activates both sides of the brain. It can be done using a variety of techniques but usually involves auditory, tactile, or visual stimulation. Some common techniques include watching your therapist as they move their finger back and forth in front of your face, tapping on your arms or legs, marching, or auditory sounds. Ultimately bilateral stimulation helps connect the two parts of your brain which helps move the memory of the distressing event from the emotional to the logical part of the brain.
Working With an EMDR Therapist for Trauma Treatment
When you first begin treatment you will work with your therapist to create an environment of trust and safety. You will also work on learning a set of tools to help you handle any distressing memories that will come up throughout the course of your EMDR sessions.
One thing that sets EMDR apart from more traditional talk-therapy methods is that it does not require you to spend many sessions talking about what happened at length. It does not force you to relive every detail of the distressing event you experienced. Helping the brain communicate more effectively between the left and right hemispheres actually speeds up the healing process. So, you may not feel that you need to be in therapy forever just to feel better.
EMDR therapy is comprised of eight phases
These eight phases target three main pieces: your past memories, your present pain, and future actions. I want to take a moment and discuss these phases in a bit more detail so you know what to expect.
Phase 1: History Taking
The primary goal of phase one is for the therapist to get enough information from you to come up with a tailored treatment plan that is unique to your needs. This may include a formal psychological assessment and taking inventory of the traumatic memories that are causing you distress. We acknowledge that often trauma isn’t just a singular event. Traumas often pile up on each other. So we want to identify all the experiences or memories that are currently causing you distress. Remember, we won’t ask you to share every vivid detail of what happened to you. Instead, we’ll pose questions like, what’s something that made you feel unsafe or unloved?
We also want to hear from you about what coping techniques you’ve used or tried to use in the past. We want to keep the ones that work and help you feel better and give you ones to replace the ones that are unhelpful.
It’s possible that you may revisit phase one if new traumatic memories are brought up during the course of EMDR and you and/or your therapist feel it’s necessary to revisit this step.
Phase 2: Preparation
The primary goal of phase two is to teach you what you can expect during EMDR and how trauma treatment generally works. Additionally, it’s also about helping you prepare to possibly experience distress as we go through the EMDR phases. This means helping you learn to quickly calm your body and cope with possible emotional pain. This helps you move through the phases successfully and gives you confidence that you can handle distress when it inevitably occurs in your life.
This phase also gives you the opportunity to get to know your therapist better and develop a sense of safety and security in the counseling room. As trauma experts, we understand how talking about what happened may make you feel very vulnerable and scared. So, we want to help you feel more comfortable and at ease when you come to counseling. It’s very important that you accurately describe your memory and how you feel during EMDR for it to be effective.
Phase 3: Assessment
During phase three you will be asked to pick a specific incident or thing to target. And we will work together to determine what thoughts and feeling you associate with that memory. Often these are untrue statements like “I am worthless” or “I am unlovable.” Then, you will be asked to choose a positive statement or emotion to replace it with. So you could replace “I am worthless” with “I am valuable” and I am unlovable with “I am worthy of love.”
The assessment is done when your therapist asks you to evaluate the truth of the positive statement on a scale of one to seven. For example, they may ask you to evaluate if the statement “I am worthy of love.” One being “not at all true”, and seven being “totally true”.
You will also be asked to identify the physical sensations when you think about a targeted belief. This may include things like sweaty palms, increased heart rate, nausea, etc.
The ultimate goal of EMDR is to help you see the truth in the positive statements.
Lastly, you will be asked to come up with a signal to tell your therapist that you need to stop processing a disturbing event. Depending on your trauma, some memories may feel too painful and cause too much distress. We want you to feel comfortable during this process. So, if at any time you’re not, we want you to tell us. This way we can stop reprocessing and help you.
Phase 4: Desensitization
During this phase, your therapist will use bilateral stimulation until your raw emotional feelings are lessened or gone completely. We measure this on the zero (no distressing raw emotion) through ten (high emotion) scale. Bilateral stimulation often includes eye movements, tactile stimulation like tapping, or auditory stimulation through bilateral tones or music. Remember you won’t be asked to go into the distressing event in detail. But, be aware that as you go through the EMDR process you may find that your initial target shifts as new repressed memories or feelings are uncovered.
Phase 5: Installation
When we have difficult experiences our brain naturally tries to learn something. In phase five, we reinforce the positive beliefs you have about yourself that may have been overshadowed or concealed by the painful memories. The goal of this phase is to accept the positive statements as truth. We want you to feel confident that you are resilient and able to handle future challenges.
Phase 6: Body Scan
During the sixth phase, we check in with your body. When you experience distress or remember it, your body will naturally hold stress and tension. For EMDR to be considered successful, we want you to be able to think about the distressing event without feeling the associated tension in your body. Processing is over when your body has successfully released the stress you felt.
Phase 7: Closure
This phase is how we end or close every session. This will help ensure you feel better at the end of treatment than you did at the beginning. When we take memories out to process we want to make sure they are all put away before we leave.
We also want you to know what to expect between sessions. It’s possible that you’ll continue to process what was brought up, Or you will find there are other things you wish to address. We may want you to journal or write that down somewhere. This will ensure we address it at your next session. Lastly, we will remind you of coping techniques you can use if you experience distress between sessions.
Phase 8: Reevaluation
Although it’s the last phase, phase eight actually opens each new EMDR session. During the reevaluation phase, you will take another look at your treatment plan with your therapist to determine the effectiveness of it. Then you will cycle through phases three-six again.
It’s important to note that you must go through all eight phases in order to find lasting relief. Think of it as having strep throat and being prescribed antibiotics. In order for you to truly rid your body of the infection, you must take every dose. Although you won’t be rid of your distressing memory. Our hope is that you will be free from the painful emotions you associate with it. In fact, many clients find that when an early memory is completely processed, difficult experiences that seemed to have piled up on top of the original trauma no longer feel problematic.
EMDR is almost always done in conjunction with other more traditional forms of talk therapy.
EMDR is not a bandaid that will make all your pain go away. It will take away your memory of what happened. But, it will lessen the emotional response you feel when you think about it. That’s why a skilled therapist will likely want to see you after the eight phases of EMDR have been completed. This encourages lasting and meaningful healing. After completing EMDR and healing your brain, you will be able to work through your distress and your memories faster. So, therapy won’t take as long.
Research on EMDR shows that it is very effective in helping many individuals, specifically those who have experienced trauma, recover faster and more effectively than talk therapy alone. EMDR can be done with children, teens, and adults. In fact, children and teens often move through EMDR quicker than adults do!
Additionally, EMDR can be used to treat other psychological concerns including:
- Performance issues
If you’re curious about beginning EMDR therapy in New Jersey, our EMDR therapists would be honored to speak with you and help you determine if it’s a good fit for your needs.
Interested in EMDR for Trauma Therapy?
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Begin EMDR Therapy in New Jersey With a Skilled Trauma Therapist
Brave Minds Psychological Services in Scotch Plains, NJ helps adults, children, and families with parenting, health anxiety, and more. Let our skilled and caring family therapists provide a safe and comfortable therapy experience right here in New Jersey. To begin counseling, there are a few simple steps:
- Connect with Brave Minds Psychological Services today.
- Get your questions answered in a free phone consultation call with one of our compassionate therapists.
- Move forward from your past with renewed hope.
Other Therapy Services At Brave Minds Psychological Services
At Brave Minds Psychological Services, we offer a variety of mental health services. Our licensed therapists are committed to helping you get on the right path to healing and wholeness. Our therapeutic services include therapy for children, anxiety treatment for children, child sexual abuse therapy, therapy for teens, anxiety treatment for teens, teen social phobia therapy, adult anxiety counseling, couples counseling, counseling for parents, postpartum counseling, birth trauma therapy, and sexual assault counseling for adults. We also have a blog where we write about a variety of different mental health subjects. If you’re interested in learning more about our services here at Brave Minds Psychological Services or online, please contact our Scotch Plains counseling office! Proud to serve Fanwood, Westfield, Cranford, New Providence, and surrounding areas.
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