all about emdr THerapy for the treatment of trauma and ptsd

WHAT IS EMDR THERAPY?

 

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a widely recognized, well researched trauma-focused therapy which was first developed by Francine Shapiro, PhD.

When we suffer traumatic experiences, we  often have a hard time "digesting" this experience.  We call this process, well, processing.  It's a processing glitch.  Those disturbing memories events can get stuck in the form of thoughts, images, body sensations, and emotions.  (One example of this is PTSD, where the events/experience of the trauma seem to remain trapped in time.)  EMDR helps individuals to process these memories and events and have a more normalized experiences as a result.

What's the process?

EMDR is actually a protocol that consists of eight phases.  This does not mean 8 sessions.  It could be less than that, or it could be significantly more.  The eight phases are: Phase 1:  History and Treatment Planning, Phase 2: preparation, Phase 3: Assessment, Phase 4: Desensitization, Phase 5: Installation, Phase 6: Body Scan, Phase 7, Closure, and Phase 8, Re-evaluation.  We can often complete the first 3 phases in 2 sessions, then frequently spend at least 2-3 sessions on Phase 4 and 5, then complete the final stages in another 1-2 sessions.  Keep in mind that this is a very general synopsis and is based on relatively "simple" or clear, single-trauma experiences.  If people have suffered numerous traumas, there will likely need to be more therapy.  

The core belief behind EMDR is that in most cases the problem isn't technically with our brains, nor in our mind's ability to "process" information.  Rather, the idea is that the information has somehow been too threatening to be able to process properly.  Similarly, most of us could digest one juicy cheeseburger without too much trouble.  If we were to be forced to eat 15 of them in one sitting, well, there might be some problems with the digesting.  EMDR's Information Processing Hypothesis works in much the same way: people with trauma are trying to process more than their system can handle on its own.  

 

That said, we still actually use the body/mind/brain's usual  tools to help facilitate the processing: bilateral stimulation.  That's a fancy way of saying "applying something to both sides".  Different EMDR therapists work with a variety of different stimulation methods (tapping, light bar, buzz sticks, auditory, etc), but the traditional method is visual eye movements (very much like what our eyes do during the REM (rapid eye movement) portion of our sleep (where, according to EMDR theory, much of the processing should be happening if it weren't suffering from a 15-cheeseburger case of indigestion). 

What can I expect to as a result?

Most of the clients with whom I've done EMDR report significant reduction in stress related to the "target" (i.e. the troublesome trigger that likely brought them in for EMDR therapy).  They usually experience a relatively quick reduction in feelings of panic/fear within the first processing session (phase 4), and they almost always tell me they are surprised at how calming the experience itself is (even though it can at times also be emotional.  Some people worry that they will have panic attacks or that they will dissociate or that things will get worse.  It does occasionally happen that people prone to panic attacks or dissociative symptoms may experience those symptoms during EMDR.  Fortunately, that's where the preparation comes in: we prepare for that, and actually try to use it, safely, as part of the healing process.  

Some folks also report that they have very interesting dreams throughout the EMDR process.  This isn't at all surprising, and would seem to support that progress is being made: the mind is finally processing material that's been locked up for some time.

In any case, most all who go through it report lasting, positive change.

HOW MANY SESSIONS OF EMDR THERAPY WOULD I NEED?

The number of sessions is often determined by the extent and the recency of the trauma. It’s possible for individuals with a single trauma to receive the full benefit of the therapy after just six weekly sessions. Those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with multiple traumas will likely require additional sessions. Most frequently, EMDR is used for a period of weekly sessions for 1-3 months.

HOW do I GET STARTED?

If you or someone you love is experiencing difficulties related to trauma, Ron Depner is happy to answer any questions you may have. Contact him at ron@therapyplace.ca

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