EMDR treatment for PTSD works by transforming your nervous system response to traumatic or triggering experiences. A trained therapist can direct you through the process of contemplating these experiences in brief doses while directing your eye movements. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a psychotherapy technique that is used to alleviate psychological stress. It effectively treats trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It works by allowing you to recall distressing events in a way that lessens the psychological and physical response you may typically have. By diverting attention to eye movement the impact of the memories is dissipated over time as the mind and body gradually adapt to the realization that there is safety and the threats associated with the experience are no longer present.
THE PHASES OF EMDR
These are the general phases of EMDR that are used over a series of sessions:
- History and treatment planning
In the first phase your counsellor or therapist evaluates and identifies what traumatic experiences to treat. There is history that is reviewed and you along with your counsellor decide on the best way forward in your treatment process. The next phase consists of learning strategies and techniques to cope with potential emotional and psychological stress that might be experienced from the EMDR therapy. This might include activities such as deep breathing or mindfulness methods. For the assessment phase a targeted approach for stimulating sensations and reactions associated with each memory is developed.
After the first few phases your counsellor will now be able to guide you through the EMDR therapy and focus on the negative thoughts, memory or images that might be afflicting you. All the while you are actively focusing on these things you will also be given specific eye movements to do. Bilateral stimulation may also be uses such as tapping or other movements that will also assist you in processing the traumatic memories one at a time.
There are instances where you may become overwhelmed and your stress coping mechanisms will need to be used while being brought back to the present. Slowly over time, the distress caused by specific memories or thoughts will dissipate along with the negative psychological reactions that caused the PTSD. After each session you, along with your counselor will assess your progress and note how changes in your responses.
THE BENEFITS OF USING EMDR FOR TREATING PTSD
A study in 2012 of 22 people found that 77% of individuals with psychotic disorder and PTSD were able to significantly improve symptoms of hallucinations, anxiety, depression and delusion with EMDR therapy. Even the Department of Veterans Affairs recommends its use for war veterans experiencing PTSD. A number of studies have also found EMDR therapy to have not only short term benefits but long term beneficial results as well. In one 2004 study that took place over several months that had participants taking “standard care” (SC) treatment or EMDR therapy for treating PTSD, they found that EMDR gave longer and more effective reduction in the symptoms of PTSD.
THE POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS OF EMDR
EMDR therapy is generally considered safe, and found to have less side effects of prescription medications that may be used to treat PTSD. There can however be some side effects that are resultant of the process of EMDR such as light-headedness, vivid dreams, heightened awareness and thinking that extends beyond the therapy sessions themselves. It can at the beginning be emotionally stressful and draining but as with many other types of therapies, the benefits and reduction of symptoms take time.
If you are experiencing PTSD, anxiety, depression or other symptoms stemming from past trauma, we suggest you find a skilled EMDR practitioner. At Clear Heart Counselling we have a number of such counsellors who are able to assist you in your healing journey.