What Is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR is a therapy method that uses memory association techniques. The acronym stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It helps you manage current problems by exploring past memories that are connected through emotions, body sensations, and negative beliefs. The core theory holds that these past memories may be blocking you from living the life you want in the present.

The original creator of EMDR used it to help treat Vietnam veterans who were dealing with PTSD. EMDR is still one of the top treatments for PTSD, and in following years, studies have shown that it is also effective for other mental health issues as well.

Who EMDR helps

EMDR can help anyone whose present life isn’t going the way they want, though it is best known as a treatment for trauma. People with traumatic memories can definitely benefit from using this therapy. If you have PTSD, C-PTSD, accidents, sudden loss, or even medical trauma, EMDR can help.

More recent research has also shown that EMDR can be effective for other mental health issues. Newer studies on anxiety, depression, chronic pain, BPD, OCD, and even gender dysphoria show that EMDR has positive effects. EMDR targets negative beliefs about yourself and helps to heal the associated memories. Many problems with mental and physical health stem from negative beliefs.

EMDR also helps people with relational issues. This includes dating, marriage, or even friendship struggles. Since relationships are such a big part of our lives, these issues are important to work on. This can include social anxiety, reactivity, fears, and more.

Finally, EMDR helps people deal with negative associations. For example, this comes up when a coworker’s grief reminds you of the deaths you’ve experienced. Or perhaps a new medical diagnosis brings up memories of a parent who went through the same thing. Whatever the case, EMDR techniques help you reprocess these memories to disrupt the negative associations.

Who shouldn’t try EMDR?

You shouldn’t start EMDR if the following apply to you:

  • You don’t have time to commit to weekly sessions right now
  • You’re not in a situation where it’s safe to spend time exploring your past
  • You don’t want to do the work of therapy

In contrast, there are other issues that can get in the way of reprocessing, but you can work through with the right therapist:

  • You have a history of dissociation, psychosis, or schizophrenia
  • You feel overwhelmed by your trauma and can’t imagine facing it
  • Your current way of managing your thoughts, feelings, and physical discomfort is through using drugs or alcohol
  • You’re hesitant to trust a therapist with your issues
  • You don’t currently have any good coping skills to manage the intense feelings in reprocessing

What can I expect in EMDR therapy?

EMDR has eight phases. You’ll start off much like any other therapy method by going over your history, current issues, and treatment goals. But that’s where the similarities end.

After the history phase, you’ll spend time developing and strengthening your skills. This is important because reprocessing can be intense, and you need to be able to manage your thoughts and emotions. You’ll learn skills to notice when things are getting out of control. You’ll also learn how to manage your thoughts and regulate your body responses. This is especially important if you’re doing EMDR through telehealth and your therapist won’t be nearby to help.

This phase is where you’ll address any of the issues listed in the previous section. If there’s anything that might get in the way of therapy, this is the time to plan how you’re going to work it out. Once you and your therapist are confident that you can handle what might come up in reprocessing, you’ll be ready to move on.

The next phase is about connecting your current issues to your past memories. Your therapist will ask you about times in the past that have been similar to right now. You’ll talk about all the connected memories back to the earliest possible time. Early memories don’t necessarily have to be your own vivid memories. EMDR also works with stories you’ve heard about yourself from early infancy and even from when you were in the womb. This list of past memories will be your treatment plan.

After creating a list of target memories, you’ll start the work of reprocessing. Going one memory at a time, you’ll explore and reprocess starting from the youngest memory possible all the way up to the most recent. After reprocessing each memory, you’ll make new associations with positive thoughts and beliefs about yourself. Then you’ll double check that all the emotion and negativity are gone from your mind and body before moving on.

Is EMDR right for you?

Let’s find out! I offer a free consultation just for this reason. Sometimes it takes a few sessions to really discover what’s right for you and that’s okay too. If we decide in the early phases that it’s not for you, we can switch to using other therapy methods like Depth therapy or ACT to see if either of those are a better fit.

You’re welcome to call, text, email, or use my online scheduling tool to ask about the details of your unique situation. Learn more about me here!

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