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EMDR Therapy: Who is it right for?


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Written by Sheza Ahmad

Bachelor of Science in Psychology

27 Sep, 2022

EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy. But what does that mean?

Most people have never heard of EMDR, which isn’t surprising considering it is a very new area of therapy.

EMDR was developed in 1987 by American psychologist Francine Shapiro for the treatment of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although that makes it a relatively new mode of therapy, studies have consistently shown its effectiveness in treating all levels of trauma and disturbing memories.

But how is it different from other modes of therapy?

One of the defining aspects of EMDR is that it is unique in how it works. Unlike traditional talk therapy, EMDR is a phased, focused approach to treating trauma and other symptoms.

How does EMDR work?

Psychologist Francine Shapiro got the idea for this method when she noticed that specific eye movement made it easier for her to process disturbing life events.

The goal of EMDR is to help people safely reprocess traumatic experiences until it is no longer disruptive to their lives. That does not mean the individual will forget about the event or that it will suddenly become irrelevant.

Instead, it means that the memories will no longer induce distressing symptoms to the point that it affects daily life.

EMDR has eight phases of treatment:

  • History taking and treatment planning

  • Preparation

  • Assessment

  • Desensitization

  • Installation

  • Body scan

How do the phases of EMDR work?

Phase 1: History taking and treatment planning

This phase is intended for the therapist to learn about the patient’s history and trauma. In addition to getting to know the client, the therapist and client work together to identify the specific target event for EMDR.

EMDR focuses on one disrupting event at a time. The process can be repeated for as many events as needed.

Phase 2: Preparation

The therapist will review the entire process with the patient and what to expect. That includes explaining all the phases, practising eye movements without thinking about the event, and answering any questions.

They will also share tools and resources that the patient can use for support between sessions. That way the patient feels safe on their own as they reprocess traumatic memories.

This phase is also meant to build a trusting relationship.

Phase 3: Assessment

The third phase of EMDR uses specific scales called Subjective Units of Disturbance (SUD) and Validity of Cognition (VOC) to help understand the patient’s view of themselves and the impact of the trauma.

The scales provide an objective reference for the therapist and patient to understand the severity of the event. Both measures are continuously used to understand how the patient is processing the event.

Phase 4: Desensitization

This phase implements eye movement. The patient focuses on the memory while the therapist guides them with specific eye movements. This process continues until that memory is less distressing to the patient.

Phase 5: Installation

The fifth phase of EMDR is where the therapist supports the patient in replacing hurtful thoughts with positive ones.

The goal of this phase is to help patients heal the way they view themselves and the world after the traumatic event.

Phase 6: Body Scan

In this phase, the therapist asks the client to observe the physical sensations in their body and describe them as they mentally think about the incident.

If they are still experiencing tension or distressing feelings, the therapist guides them in lessening the physical sensations.

Phase 7: Closure

The closure is used to end a session. If the targeted event was not processed during that session, the therapist supports the client in safely storing it away for the next session.

They ensure the client is feeling safe to leave and that the memory is properly stored away in the mind until the next appointment.

This phase always ends the session.

Phase 8: Reevaluation

During phase eight, the therapist asks how the client felt since the last session. They ask about the client’s current state of mind, whether treatment effects have been maintained, and what memories have emerged since the previous session.

Then the therapist works with the client to identify targets for the current session and begin the process again.

Who is EMDR appropriate for?

Now that you know how EMDR works, is it right for you?

There is a misconception that EMDR is only meant to treat those diagnosed with PTSD. Although that is what EMDR was originally developed to treat, it has since evolved to treat any emotional disorder that stems from troubling or traumatic events.

Therefore, any event that has a significant impact on your well-being is appropriate for seeking out EMDR therapy. The main thing to ask yourself when evaluating if EMDR is a good fit for you is, “does this event have a negative impact on my life currently?”

Many people have experienced traumatic events that no longer grip them with unbearable pain. Those events do not need to be reprocessed with EMDR.

But then other events carry a sense of danger and grip your body with extreme intensity. Those are the events that can be helped and healed with the support of EMDR therapy.

How do I know if the event is significant enough for EMDR?

The event does not need to be something that is considered extreme. If it is disrupting your life and your overall sense of well-being, it is a big deal.

Trauma varies from person to person, and its impact is individual. Therefore, what may have impacted you won’t impact another person in the same way. That is why therapists take the time to learn about you and your history so they can support your healing.

What are the next steps?

If you feel you want to explore EMDR as a therapy option, the next step would be to connect with an EMDR therapist.

The process would be the same as connecting with any other type of therapist. They will ask you questions and you will get the opportunity to ask them questions. This will allow you both to figure out if it’s a good fit before moving forward.

Then you will get started with the treatment plan and follow the eight phases of EMDR to reprocess any disturbing life event(s).

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Sheza Ahmad

Bachelor of Science in Psychology

Sheza has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with Distinction and years of relevant work experience in the field of mental health. Her education, paired with her extensive work experience, feeds her passion to write about mental health.

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