What Is EMDR and How Can It Help Trauma Survivors?

What Is EMDR and How Can It Assist Trauma Survivors?


October 10, 2023, is World Mental Health Day.

Medically reviewed by Saundra Jain, MA, Psy, LPC.

Practically each morning it’s the identical factor. I’m jolted awake from a dream about my father. Within the dream, it’s come to mild that he isn’t lifeless. His loss of life was a hoax. Nonetheless blurry from sleep, I attempt to make sense of this information. Then all of it comes flooding again: the best way he gasped and writhed, the best way the machines beeped and hummed, the best way the guards (my father died incarcerated) glanced up, aggravated, whereas texting, interrupted by my wailing sobs.

It’s been shut to a few years since my dad died, however in these waking moments, it’s as if I’ve misplaced him simply minutes in the past.

I would like this reminiscence to cease hurting me. However I additionally don’t wish to neglect my closing moments with my father. What can I do? I’ll have discovered the reply: EMDR therapy.

Lately, I’ve been listening to extra about EMDR, which stands for eye motion desensitization and reprocessing. That is doubtless as a result of celebrities comparable to Miley Cyrus and Prince Harry have been publicly sharing their transformative experiences with EMDR, which is endorsed by the World Well being Group, the Nationwide Alliance on Psychological Sickness, the Division of Veterans Affairs and the American Psychological Affiliation.

So what precisely is EMDR? And may it profit folks like me who really feel trapped in time by traumatic recollections?

What’s EMDR?

Developed in 1987 by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., EMDR is a structured remedy designed to deal with trauma. Throughout a session, the affected person focuses briefly on a trauma reminiscence whereas, on the similar time, experiencing stimulation to either side of the mind. (This may be executed by way of eye actions, however there are different strategies, comparable to tapping and sounds.)

The purpose of this remedy, which is offered by an EMDR-trained specialist, is for the particular person to really feel a discount within the vividness and emotion related to the trauma reminiscence.

Learn: Childhood Trauma Can Result in Continual Ache >>

It could sound like magic, however that is deeply scientific stuff. EMDR prompts totally different elements of your mind — together with your amygdala (processing feelings) and hippocampus (reminiscence and studying) — to permit for reprocessing a reminiscence so it’s not upsetting. It’s not simply what you need, both — it’s what your mind wants and is designed to do.

“EMDR revolves across the mind’s capacity to heal itself when processing traumatic recollections,” mentioned Arielle Jordan, an EMDR therapist who has discovered EMDR to be life-changing in her journey with submit traumatic stress dysfunction (PTSD) and grief. “It results in extra adaptive data, which is what your mind is searching for anyway — however you could want that third get together [of EMDR] to help.”

What occurs in EMDR periods?

Based on the EMDR Worldwide Affiliation, there are eight phases of EMDR therapy, which happen over quite a lot of periods, with every session normally lasting about an hour (although some clinicians supply intensive periods that may final many hours).

The eight phases of EMDR are:

  1. Complete historical past taking: Dialogue of targets and constructing a basis of belief together with your therapist.
  2. Preparation: Schooling on EMDR. The therapist explains particular strategies and makes certain you’re ready emotionally for reprocessing.
  3. Evaluation: Identification of and activation of a trauma reminiscence.
  4. Desensitization: Following your therapist’s cues — whether or not it’s finger actions, tapping or sounds — to reprocess the goal reminiscence till it’s not distressing.
  5. Set up: Alternative of detrimental beliefs with optimistic ones in regards to the occasion.
  6. Physique scan: Steerage in a mindfulness, grounding or rest method by the therapist to make sure that you would be able to conjure the goal occasion with out feeling pressure within the physique.
  7. Closure: Examine-in on the finish of every session to ensure you depart feeling higher on the finish of the session than at first.
  8. Reevaluation: Analysis at first of every session of whether or not you might want to proceed processing the reminiscence you labored on within the earlier session or transfer to a brand new reminiscence.

With EMDR, you don’t wipe out the traumatic reminiscence fully. As an alternative, you develop into desensitized to it in order that it fails to muster anger, sorrow, worry, panic or any of the opposite upsetting feelings or ideas it used to set off.

The EMDR course of also can make room for higher recollections surrounding the trauma. This makes it significantly helpful for those who’re coping with a grief reminiscence and don’t wish to neglect something in regards to the particular person you misplaced, however simply wish to really feel a weight off when you concentrate on the way you misplaced them, or different detrimental occasions surrounding the trauma. It is a motivating issue for me, as I wish to keep in mind every little thing about my dad, however painlessly.

Who can profit from EMDR?

Anybody who has skilled trauma might profit from EMDR remedy — particularly girls.

Research reveals that EMDR remedy can deal with situations that have an effect on extra girls and other people assigned feminine at delivery (AFAB) than males, together with PTSD, eating disorders, depression and anxiety disorders. Research additionally present that EMDR remedy can help survivors of sexual assault course of and get well from trauma.

When you have quite a lot of distinctive traumatic recollections, you possibly can work by way of and reprocess every of them in separate periods.

What are attainable dangers of EMDR?

One danger with EMDR is the potential for dissociation — a state the place you’re feeling disconnected from your self, physique and thoughts. Your therapist will attempt to assess the probabilities of this occurring when taking your historical past and figuring out for those who’re a great candidate. They may also stabilize you, as wanted, all through the session.

Throughout an EMDR session (and even for hours after, generally), your mind is doing a number of intense work and also you’ll doubtless expertise some tough feelings. This typically results in fatigue after periods. By no means plan an EMDR session when you may have one thing to do afterward, like in your lunch break, and at all times make a while after for relaxation and self-care.

Who mustn’t do EMDR?

It’s important to be assessed by your therapist (this occurs through the history-taking portion of your early periods) and, if in case you have any medical situations, by your main care doctor, too.

Due to the aforementioned danger of dissociation, folks with sure psychological well being situations is probably not a match for EMDR. “Somebody who might expertise psychotic signs, or resides with schizophrenia, or with a temper dysfunction like bipolar is probably not the perfect match for EMDR,” mentioned Kiva Harper, an EMDR therapist.

If you have already got a situation or are on medicines that may trigger dissociation, EMDR could also be a harmful set off and must be averted.

Along with psychological well being or medical situations, you could wish to postpone EMDR remedy for those who want the vividness and ache of the traumatic reminiscence for authorized functions.

“When working with victims of crime, generally they should be a witness in court docket,” Harper mentioned. “Quite a lot of occasions, attorneys don’t need them to be desensitized on the stand. We might seek the advice of with attorneys to debate if the affected person can do EMDR.”

What are the limitations to accessing EMDR remedy?

EMDR remedy isn’t as extensively accessible as speak remedy as a result of there simply aren’t as many clinicians working towards it. And there are some frequent limitations. For instance, many EMDR suppliers don’t take medical health insurance. Moreover, the area continues to be predominantly white (when it comes to practitioners), which might current challenges for folks of colour who wish to work with somebody of a selected race or ethnicity.

Learn: Closing the Psychological Well being Hole for Ladies of Coloration >>

How will you discover an EMDR therapist?

In the event you’re interested by EMDR remedy, you possibly can seek for therapists on the EMDR International Association website.

“Their therapists are correctly skilled,” Jordan mentioned. “You’ll be able to enter your insurance coverage and it’ll discover somebody in your space, if obtainable, who takes your insurance coverage.”

You may also name your insurance coverage supplier and have them ship you an inventory of therapists.

“[The insurance provider list] gained’t checklist who makes a speciality of EMDR, however you possibly can then do a Google search and see if they’ve that ability,” Jordan mentioned.

I’m so relieved to know this therapy exists, and I’m on the hunt for an EMDR therapist in my space. I can’t wait to start.

In the event you or somebody you recognize is having a psychological well being disaster, please name or textual content the Suicide and Disaster Lifeline at 988.

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