What is EMDR?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is an evidence-based and clinically-proven treatment in which the therapist helps you resolve distressing symptoms and disturbing or overwhelming body sensations and emotions. Sometimes traumatic events are slowly forgotten over time. However, some distressing events can cause us to get stuck in a loop. EMDR can be used to help you to stop repeating the same distressing patterns and tap into your natural healing processes; the body and mind are meant to heal. EMDR can help you process these distressing feelings, and then overcome them. Although there is a strong body of evidence for EMDR’s efficacy in anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, there is also emerging evidence of its utility in treating conditions like chronic pain. The therapy can initially feel emotionally intense, however it has been proven to be safe and effective, and after therapy, the person is left remembering the negative event, without feeling the same negative and overwhelming symptoms/sensations/emotions.
What is EMDR able to treat?
This treatment method is used to treat a variety of difficulties, ranging from more minor issues that impact self-esteem to major life trauma (vehicle accident, death of a loved one, assault, childhood abuse, etc.). Some conditions that can benefit from EMDR therapy include:
- Childhood Trauma
- Relationship Injuries/Issues
- Family of Origin Issues/Trauma
- Anger Problems
- Sleeping Problems
- Complicated grief
- Phantom limb pain
- Chronic Pain
- Sexual & Physical abuse
- Panic Disorder
- Dissociative disorders
If your problem is not listed here, ask HopeWell Psychological whether EMDR may be helpful for you.
What is an EMDR session like?
The client and therapist work together to collect basic information about the disturbing experience/memory. An EMDR therapist must take a thorough history to determine if and how EMDR can be used as part of an overall treatment plan. Then the psychologist must ensure that the client is ready for the treatment stage of EMDR. Once the client’s readiness is determined, the therapist assesses the disturbing part of the client’s previous experience(s) (asking for the client’s thoughts, feelings, body sensations and level of disturbance associated with the memory) and begins to help the client desensitize the disturbance. This is aided by guiding the client’s eyes to move rapidly back and forth while as client identifies the upsetting memories and/or sensations. These rapid eye movements, which occur naturally during dreaming, have been demonstrates to speed the healing process for many condition. The eye movements are done in sets, which may last from a few seconds to a few minutes. During each set the client is instructed to just notice whatever changes occur in mind and body, without controlling the experience in any way. Very often, in the first few sets there is an increase in the disturbance level. After a while, with each new set, the target become less and less disturbing. The target is completely processed when recall of the disturbing symptom/memory no longer brings up negative and upsetting emotions. Because clients can feel some emotional distress, EMDR may be inappropriate for those who are unwilling or unable to tolerate emotional distress.
Why bring up uncomfortable sensations, feelings, thoughts, and memories?
When uncomfortable sensations, feelings, thoughts, and memories are avoided, they keep their disturbing power. However, panic attacks and disturbing memories can feel just as upsetting and overwhelming as the original experience, yet not be helpful in any way. In therapy, and with EMDR, you can face the memory in a safe setting, so that you do not feel overwhelmed. Then you can get through it and move on.
How will I experience EMDR?
It is hard to predict the thoughts, feelings, body sensations, or memories that might come up during EMDR. It depends on each person’s life experiences. You are always in charge of whether to continue or stop processing. You can also decide how much to tell the therapist about the experience.
Are there any precautions?
Yes. There are specific procedures to be followed depending on the presenting problem, the patient’s emotional stability, medical condition and other factors. It is very important that your therapist be formally trained in EMDR.
How long does EMDR therapy take?
This depends on several factors including the nature of the problem, the client’s history, the client’s resources and coping abilities, and the client’s ability to tolerate disturbance. In some cases 1-2 EMDR session may be enough. However, treatment duration depends on the severity and chronicity of the symptoms, and for the average client, EMDR therapy takes weeks to months of treatment. When EMDR therapy is used appropriately, it can significantly shorten the overall length of time in therapy. EMDR is a research-based approach that has been rigorously studied in the literature and shown to be effective. It may help most individuals resolve their difficulties very quickly.
What happns after an EMDR session?
You may continue to process the material after the session, perhaps experiencing new thoughts, behaviours, feelings, memories, insights, dreams, or body sensations. Those who know you very well may notice new behaviours in you as well. This may feel confusing, but it is just a continuation of the natural healing process. Usually, there is no need to worry, just notice what happens and report it at the next session. If you become concerned or depressed, or have any questions, you are always welcome to call your therapist.
What does the research say about EMDR?
EMDR is highly regarded by Veterans Affairs Canada as well as the American Psychiatric Association, the U.K. National Institute for Clinical Excellence, and the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health.1 Many studies have shown that EMDR decreases anxiety, depression and PTSD symptoms in both civilians2,3 and military populations,4 and researchers discovered that EMDR helped to resolve PTSD, dissociative symptoms, trauma-related anger, and guilt.5 EMDR therapy has been shown to be highly effective for those suffering from “small t” traumas 6 where the symptoms are not severe enough to obtain a PTSD Diagnosis7 and “Large T” traumas where the symptoms do warrant a PTSD Diagnosis, such as with car accidents, abuse, sexual assault, or other highly traumatic life events.2,4,8 EMDR treatment shows lasting results at follow-up in multiple studies.4,3,9,10 Additionally, EMDR tends to work faster (within hours) and has greater improvements in PTSD symptoms that resulted from a single-event trauma.3 Multiple meta-analysis indicate that EMDR is consistently superior to waitlist and other treatment controls1 and preliminary results indicate that EMDR may be used to treat unexplained medical symptoms or somatoform disorders that may or may not be related to a traumatic event.11 Additionally, EMDR was better tolerated than the Prolonged Exposure (PE) treatment.3 The National Mental Health recommends that PTSD and trauma is treated with a trauma-specific treatment, such as EMDR, for a course of 8-12 sessions per single traumatic event; more complex cases may require additional sessions or the use of medications to accompany psychotherapy.12
EMDR is a powerful approach that has the ability to help people process difficult experiences and/or memories. If you are ready to book an EMDR session, call HopeWell Psychological today at 780-298-9401, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can complete our contact form.
- Schubert S. Lee CW. Adult PTSD and Its Treatment with EMDR: A review of controversies, evidence, and theoretical knowledge. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research 2009;3(3):117-132.
- Vickerman KA. Margolin G. Rape treatment outcome research: Empirical findings and state of the literature. Clinical Psychology Review 2009;29(5):431-448.
- Ironson G.I. Freund B. Strauss J.L. Williams J. Comparison of two treatments for traumatic stress: A community-based study of EMDR and prolonged exposure. Journal of Clinical Psychology 2012;58(1):113-128.
- Carlson J. Chemtob CM. Rusnak K. Hedlund NL. Muraoka MY. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Treatment for combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Traumatic Stress 1998;11:3-24.
- Taylor S. Thordarson DS. Maxfield L. Fedoroff IC. Lovell K. Ogrodnicuk J. Comparative efficacy, speed, and adverse affects of three PTSD treatments: Exposure therapy, EMDR, and relaxation training. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 2003;71:330-338.
- Cvetek R. EMDR treatment of distressful experiences that fail to meet the criteria for PTSD. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research 2008;2(1):2-14.
- Vincent J. Felitti VJ. Anda RF. Nordenberg D. Williamson DF. Spitz AM. Edwards V. Koss MP. Marks JS. Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Journal of Preventative Medicine 1998;14(4):245-258.
- Bisson JI. Ehlers A. Matthews R. Pilling S. Richards D. Turner S. Psychological treatments for chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. British Journal of Psychiatry 2007; 190:97-104.
- van der Kolk B. Spinazzola J. Blaustein ME. Hopper JW. Hopper EK. Korn DL. Simpson WB. A randomized clinical trial of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Fluoxetine, and pill placebo in the treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Treatment effects and long-term maintenance. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 2007;68(0):1-10.
- van Etten ML. Taylor S. Comparative efficacy of treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy 1998;5:126-144.
- van Rood YR. de Roos C. EMDR in the treatment of medically unexplained symptoms: A systematic review. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research 2009;3(4): 248-263.
- National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health. The management of PTSD in adults and children in primary and secondary care 2005; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0015848/pdf/PubMedHealth_PMH0015848.pdf