Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy teach you that the mind is equally able to heal from trauma as the physical body naturally does. Through this therapy, the mind begins to rebuild itself and let go of old defense patterns that could be leading to symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Sana Lake Recovery Center offers EMDR therapy as a part of our treatment plans for mental health conditions that often co-occur with addiction.
How Does Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy Work?
Every experience or reaction to such is a learned behavior. The idea behind EMDR is that with the right tools, we can teach the brain to react differently to events we once responded to negatively
EMDR Therapy focuses on strengthening the neural pathways associated with positive sensations, emotions, and reactions. By strengthening your positive memories of moments with loved ones, success, and laughter, you can increase your ability to handle traumatic memories.
Desensitizing yourself to your trauma involves maintaining the positive memories while actively remembering the traumatic events so that you can learn to respond to trauma less severely.
Typically the therapist will hold their fingers about 18 inches away from the patient, and move them back and forth like windshield wipers. As the patient focuses on the memories, they become more vivid and realistic. Following the fingers to create specific eye patterns in response to these memories exchanges negative feelings with positive ones.
The sensitization phase uses Dual Attention Stimulation (DAS) which is a bi-lateral eye movement process meant to cause alternating tones and pulses between the two hemispheres of the brain.
Research has shown that this process helps reduces the vividness and emotional intensity of trauma as it encourages self-control of emotions and general reactions. Bi-Lateral eye movement also mimics REM sleep which is the “healing & repairing” stage of sleep.
DAS also stimulates the reflex of your brain that draws attention to new stimuli, meaning it makes you want to stop replaying old memories and build new ones. This will encourage moving past your trauma and seeing your life in a new way.
Phases of EMDR Therapy
EMDR Therapy is broken down into eight different phases and usually lasts about 12 sessions. The phases include :
This first phase involves evaluating the patient’s history and conditions and devising an appropriate treatment plan. Depending on the individual’s background, different eye movement patterns may be used, or in some cases, more frequent treatments may be suggested.
This second phase involves stress management tools such as breathing techniques and relaxation practices in order to prepare you for the sessions. Since traumatic events are going to be intentionally brought up, it’s important the patient must be able to emotionally handle the situations as they work through the therapy.
This third phase will give the therapist the chance to determine which memories or past events are contributing to the stress/anxiety condition, and at the same time identify which emotional or physical responses are associated with them. The therapist needs to have a clear understanding of the patient’s neural pathways in order to help rewire them to create new response patterns.
Stages 4-7 are the stages of actual treatment. During these phases, the therapist will incorporate the specific eye movement patterns while traumatic memories are brought up in order to re-train your emotional and physical reaction during these phases, a target is identified and processed using EMDR therapy procedures. Patients will identify three key things:
1. The vivid visual image related to the memory
2. A negative belief about self
3. Related emotions and body sensations.
Evaluation Phase 8 is the evaluation stage, where the therapist will track your progress and determine if more sessions are needed. Although the average length of treatment is 12-18 sessions, many people require more if they are working through complex or multiple areas of trauma.
Multiple studies have proven EMDR to be extremely beneficial, with effects lasting longer than six months for most patients. Associations such as the Department of Veterans Affairs have listed EMDR therapy as one of their strongly recommended treatments for PTSD and anxiety.
EMDR Therapy has lower dropout rates compared to other methods such as talk therapy or hypnosis, and it also found high rates of success than those types.
EMDR shows faster results compared to other forms of therapy, which results showing almost immediately. Additionally, after the 3-6 month post-treatment check-in, patients were still experiencing the full benefits of the treatment.
Are There risks Associated with EMDR?
EMDR is known for being both gentle and stress-reducing, but as with any treatment, there are potential risks. Some may experience an increase in flashbacks, nightmares, or anxiety, but typically only in the short term.
If you are in addiction recovery and receiving EMDR therapy, some sessions may trigger feelings that resonate with relapse or past drug use. If you are a person in recovery or currently addicted to a substance, you must disclose these details to your therapist.
Preparing for EMDR Therapy:
There are little to no concerns about EMDR therapy, but you should always be sure your therapist is a licensed practitioner with experience. This style of therapy can be quite difficult in the beginning since the point is to intentionally surface a lot of traumatic and triggering memories.
You want to ensure that you are working with a licensed professional who can help you healthily handle the stress. They should also be able to tell when sessions are becoming too intense and might require a step back.
It often takes a couple of sessions before the positive effects experienced, so you should be prepared to give it a few tries before dropping out. Speak with your practitioner about your concerns and make sure you are giving yourself enough time to work through your pain. Healing is a marathon, not a sprint.