How Does EMDR Work?

How Does EMDR Work?

The goal of EMDR is to trigger the brain to initiate the same process that it does when a person sleeps

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic technique that utilizes eye movement to help desensitize a person to an upsetting or troubling situation. EMDR was initially developed by a psychologist named Francine Shapiro in 1987 when she made the link between eye movement and cognition and its resulting desensitizing effect on negative emotions. EMDR was mainly experimental for some time until it achieved positive results and was deemed an efficient treatment method by the American Psychological Association. It is believed by many that EMDR is linked to what often happens during sleep. When people sleep their brains process the previous day’s information by replaying images and making random rapid eye movements. In the morning people generally feel more at peace about stressful situations or upsetting circumstances that had a negative emotional effect on them the day before. Sleep is essentially the brains natural way of being able to resolve negative issues so that the person can feel restored. EMDR therapists in some way try to recreate this process by having their patients undergo a series of eye movements while thinking about the thing that is causing them emotional distress. The goal is to trigger the brain to initiate the same process that it does when a person sleeps so it may naturally resolve the issue. According to the EMDR Institute, sessions typically last 60 to 90 minutes and include the following aspects:

  • The EMDR therapist tries to help the patient identify past thoughts that may still be causing current pain or emotional distress.
  • The EMDR therapist teaches the patient how to utilize certain eye movement and visualization techniques when negative emotions related to troubling memories become present, such anxiety or fear.
  • The patient is asked to come up with a certain image in their mind that is related to the troubling memories. They are also asked to share any negative thoughts or words they have in relation to that image.
  • The patient is then asked to hold the image in their mind while the EMDR therapist uses hand movement or certain tones played through headphones to move the patient’s eyes in a particular series of patterns.
  • The patient is then asked to think of something positive to replace the negative thoughts about the image in their mind while their eyes are being moved.
  • After replacing the negative thought of the image with a positive thought the patient is then asked to let his thoughts go and try to think of nothing.
  • In between sessions patients are typically asked to keep an accurate log that documents negative memories that arise and the techniques the patient used to try and block them.
  • If new issues or painful memories arise as progress is being made sessions are continued on a regular basis until all issues are resolved.

The goal of treatment is to slowly improve the person’s thoughts by making them more positive. In most cases, EMDR is used for people suffering from PTSD. PTSD has a significant link to drug abuse and addiction and can be effective for people suffering from either.

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