Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an approach to psychotherapy that was created to help people heal from symptoms of trauma and psychological distress caused by upsetting life experiences. EMDR is performed by a mental health professional like a therapist, counselor, social worker or psychologist, who has been formally trained in EMDR therapy and its techniques. At Identity Counseling Psychology, our therapy practice located in Ann Arbor, MI, we offer both traditional talk therapy for issues relating to trauma, as well as EMDR therapy as a form of treatment. IDENTITY clinician Jaymin Cox, LMSW, CAADC, specializes in trauma counseling and has been trained in EMDR therapy. Check out Jaymin’s profile to learn more, or contact us today to schedule an intake.
What is EMDR Therapy?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and it’s a unique form of psychotherapy that was created to treat symptoms of trauma, although it doesn’t require patients to talk about the traumatic experiences that they’ve endured. EMDR has been highly beneficial for patients dealing with trauma and PTSD, as opening up about the surrounding events or memories tends to be a painful, slow-moving, and sometimes impossible feat.
The goal of EMDR therapy is to help patients fully process negative past experiences and sort out the feelings, memories, and triggers attached to those experiences so that they can heal in a healthy way. EMDR is an integrative style of therapy, in which practitioners use bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements, sounds, or taps, to divert the attention of patients while they recall painful or traumatic memories. Exposure to trauma in this indirect way alleviates its intensity and allows it to be worked through and addressed in a safe setting. Processing past psychological pain is an important step that makes room for healthy healing and coping moving forward.
EMDR sessions follow a specific sequence of phases, which can generally be completed within 4-8 sessions. The therapist and patient can then reevaluate whether more treatment is necessary or wanted. EMDR can be used as a stand-alone therapy or alongside other forms of treatment.
What Does EMDR Therapy Treat?
EMDR therapy is particularly effective for those who struggle to talk about their past experiences. It was originally designed to treat post traumatic stress, but EMDR can be used to address any adverse experiences or negative memories that may be impacting or leading to mental health concerns.
Therapists have been known to use EMDR for issues like:
- Chronic illness
- Eating disorders
- Grief and loss
- Panic attacks
How Does EMDR Therapy Work?
In EMDR therapy, patients are helped to identify and work through the negative memories or experiences that cause them distress in order to make room for proper healing. There are eight phases in EMDR therapy, which consist of the following steps:
1. History and treatment planning
This phase involves the therapist and the patient reviewing the patient’s past experiences, current concerns, and future goals, as well as identifying the target memories and events that may be traumatic and need to be fully processed.
During this phase, the therapist will explain the treatment process and establish trust with the patient. The therapist will also go over coping strategies for any distress or overwhelming feelings that may arise during the treatment. Stress management and coping techniques may include things like deep breathing or mindfulness exercises.
In this phase, the patient brings the target event to mind and discusses his or her associated negative thoughts, beliefs, and even physical sensations when thinking about the event. The therapist records and evaluates these observations. The therapist and patient together then pick a more positive and desirable cognition or belief related to the event. They discuss, measure and record how true the new, healthier association feels to the patient.
Desensitization is the phase where the bilateral stimulation occurs. The client thinks about the target event while the therapist administers sets of side-to-side eye movements, sounds, or taps. This stimulation diverts the client’s attention while they are simultaneously giving attention to the target memories. The therapist breaks periodically to check in on the patient and evaluate how they’re feeling. The sets of eye movements, sounds, or taps are repeated until the event feels less disturbing.
This phase is used to strengthen positive and healthy replacement cognitions related to the event. The desirable beliefs and associations that were previously discussed are the target of the bilateral stimulation in this phase. The therapist again checks in with the client periodically to measure how true the healthier cognitions feel as the bilateral stimulation continues.
6. Body scan
In this phase the therapist and the patient check in to see if the patient is now able to bring up memories of the traumatic event without experiencing psychological distress or any negative feelings that aren’t relevant or healthy. If the patient is still not able to process the memory without experiencing unhealthy physical tension or emotional disturbances, continuation of the bilateral stimulation may be deemed necessary.
Closure is a phase that occurs at the end of every session, even if the target event is not fully processed. This is important because EMDR therapy can take several sessions to complete, and the patient must always reach stabilization before a session is over and they leave therapy, as bilateral stimulation can be overwhelming, especially at first. Reaching closure can include calming exercises, guided imagery, or discussion of the session.
This phase occurs at the beginning of every session, and it consists of evaluating and measuring the residual distress related to the target event that may still be in place, as well as evaluating and measuring the perceived accuracy of the new positive beliefs related to the target event. If the client is still experiencing unhealthy levels of disturbance, the session resumes with desensitization. If healthier beliefs are accepted, the patient is ready to move on. Both the patient and the therapist assess the progress that has been made.
How IDENTITY Can Help
Identity Counseling Psychology is a psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor, MI that specializes in counseling for issues related to trauma. Our therapists are passionate about tailoring therapy services to the individual needs of the patient, and this might include techniques like EMDR. Jaymin Cox, LMSW, CAADC offers EMDR therapy at IDENTITY, and is trained in trauma counseling and EMDR techniques. EMDR operates under the theory that disturbing memories, events, or experiences can lead to unwanted mental health symptoms, and that processing trauma is important to make room for healing. However, this is often difficult without the help of a mental health professional. If you are dealing with symptoms of trauma, but struggle to discuss or relay painful emotions, EMDR therapy might be a good fit for you. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule an appointment.
It is important to note that due to the nature of EMDR therapy and its potential for producing vivid visual imagery and/or body sensations, the clinicians at IDENTITY cannot engage in this therapy with anyone who dissociates or has a dissociative disorder at this time. If you are interested in EMDR, but are unsure if you dissociate, please talk to your therapist. All EMDR clients will be screened for dissociation prior to beginning treatment.