EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a simple, but effective therapy that uses Bilateral Stimulation such as tapping, auditory tones, or lateral eye movements to attempt to accelerate the brain’s ability to process and heal. Lateral eye movement, which occurs normally during dream sleep (REM sleep), is theorized to cause the two hemispheres of the brain to work together to reintegrate memory. Using BLS in therapy with a targeted memory, some clients experience relief and/or positive effects, sometimes in just a few sessions. EMDR can be effective in alleviating trauma-related symptoms whether the traumatic event occurred many years ago or only recently. EMDR is a treatment approach that has been widely validated by research for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Research on other applications of EMDR (such as applications for anxiety disorders, stress, phobias, panic attacks, sexual and physical abuse, disturbing memories, grief, and addictions) is currently ongoing.
The potential benefits of EMDR treatment include the following:
- The memory remains intact but your painful emotions (e.g. anxiety), physical sensations, and disturbing images/thoughts may no longer be present.
- EMDR helps your brain reintegrate the memory and store the memory differently. Your own brain reintegrates the memory and does the healing.
Along with these benefits, it is also important to consider::
- Reprocessing a memory may bring up associated memories. This is normal and those memories will be reprocessed as well.
- During EMDR, you may experience physical sensations and retrieve images, emotions, and sounds associated with the memory. You may experience reactions during the treatment sessions that neither you nor your provider has anticipated, including a high level of emotion or physical sensations. When this occurs, your provider will assist you to remain within your window of tolerance and will work with you to determine whether to proceed with the current reprocessing work, or to focus on resourcing and regulating for the remainder of the session.
- Reprocessing of the memory normally continues after the end of each session. Other memories, flashbacks, feelings, and sensations may occur. You may have dreams associated with reprocessed memory or related memories. Frequently, your brain can reprocess this additional material without help, but your provider will work with you to identify personal resources and options for assistance if you are unable to cope between sessions.
As with any other therapeutic approach, reprocessing traumatic memories can be uncomfortable; that means some people may have trouble tolerating EMDR treatment. If this is the case, several options are available:
- Your provider can extend the preparation phase of treatment by providing additional resourcing to you, and/or your supports prior to moving on to the processing phase of treatment.
- Alternative therapeutic approaches including art, music, play, mindfulness, and cognitive-behavioral approaches may be added to decrease the intensity of the EMDR focus.
- You can discontinue EMDR and opt for a different approach at any time, as there are no adverse effects to discontinuing this approach.
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