Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR, short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a style of therapy which is used to address traumatic or disturbing life experiences that can cause, or contribute, to various mental health issues.
In EMDR, patients recall problematic memories with the guidance of a therapist. Therapists help their patients evoke a target memory, asking them to recall, for instance, the sounds, smells and feeling of their environment at the time. Once an image is firmly in a patient’s mind, the therapist will guide the patient’s eye movement. Patients will repeat this process until their overall anxiety about the memory is reduced and they can work on what is called a “positive cognition.” A therapist will work with a patient to see how they would have preferred to feel during the event, for instance, “empowered” instead of “helpless” or “calm” instead of “panicked.”
While research shows that EMDR is extremely effective in treating various mental health issues, not much is known about why eye-movement works in therapy. The fast eye movements of EMDR are similar to those seen in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, where much of dreaming takes place. Since REM sleep has shown to play a role in the processing of both positive and negative memories, EMDR may mimic this process. Others hypothesize that EMDR processes are similar to hypnosis. The lateral eye movements of EMDR facilitates relaxation and distraction while people visualize unpleasant memories, thus reducing the anxiety associated with these memories.
Regardless, EMDR works by reprocessing memories so that our emotional associations with the memory are reworked and incorporated into our psyche in a more healthy manner.
How effective is EMDR?
EMDR is recommended as an effective treatment for trauma by the American Psychiatric Association. EMDR is also highly recommended by the Department of Veteran Affairs in the treatment of trauma and PTSD in the military.
One study found that EMDR was superior to Prozac for treating trauma, and the improvements in mental health continued even after treatment was terminated.
The benefits of EMDR are often noticeable after one session. For some, this is preferable to other treatments for trauma which may take longer.
How long does it take?
In issues arising from a singular traumatic event, EMDR treatment can be completed in as little as 3-6 sessions for many patients. If a person has experienced multiple traumatic events or a singular event has become complicated over time or as a result of other mental health issues, EMDR treatment can exceed 6 sessions.
Each EMDR session is usually an hour, with the initial session lasting an hour and a half.
What other issues can EMDR treat?
Aside from PTSD and other trauma-related disorders, EMDR can help in the treatment of: