Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy for Trauma, PTSD and other symptoms associated with adverse life experiences
What is EMDR Therapy?
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an “empirically validated psychotherapy approach that is effective is treating the sequelea of trauma and negative life experiences and has the frequent ability to bring about substantial improvement in shorter periods of time.”
Recommended by the American Psychiatric Association, it is a phased and comprehensive therapeutic approach that incorporates specific principles, protocols and procedures to target disturbing memories and traumatic events that often lead to anxiety, depression, performance fears, and phobias among other things. Practitioners have the ability to tailor EMDR therapy to the unique needs of each individual client and often pay careful attention to images, emotions, beliefs, resiliency, physical responses, awareness, and interpersonal systems in achieving positive outcomes.
Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.
— Jean-Paul Sartre
How does EMDR Therapy Work?
EMDR involves a unique procedure in which a therapist exposes the patient to bilateral stimulation which is any stimuli (visual, tactile, or auditory) that occurs in a rhythmic left-right pattern. In my practice I will use visual bilateral stimulation by asking clients to follow my fingers as I move them from left to right while holding different aspects of a traumatic event in their mind.
A basic assumption of EMDR therapy is that within the mind and brain there is an inherent system at work called Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) that is physiologically geared toward the proper processing of information and thus toward mental health. When this system is functioning properly, it is believed that negative emotions are relieved, information is appropriately integrated and learning takes place that is available for future use. If this system becomes blocked or out of balance because of a traumatic experience or extreme stress, the information acquired at the time of the event is stored in a disconnected and emotionally “charged” state thus causing internal suffering and, in some cases, mental illness. It is believed that the bilateral stimulation used in EMDR therapy taps into this information processing system in the brain thus activating an individual’s natural ability to adaptively process traumatic material and move toward an optimal state of mental health and healing.
The merging of remote mental health treatment, professional skills and technology has created a unique opportunity to bring evidence-based healing modalities like virtual EMDR to a much broader population. Many individuals wonder whether or not virtual EMDR is available and if it is as effective as in-person EMDR Therapy. Put simply, EMDR can be done virtually and, assuming you are working with a well trained EMDR practitioner, treatment effects can be very powerful.
There are certain tools and applications that are unique to virtual EMDR Therapy such as online EMDR applications that client’s use to actually engage in the bilateral stimulation. Also, some adjustments might be made to the phased timeline approach to EMDR. For example, some practitioners feel that it is helpful to spend a little more time building the therapeutic alliance when doing virtual EMDR. One of the greatest risks to effective virtual EMDR is the potential for technology-related challenges which can be quite disruptive to the client and the process. Another risk when working with any form of virtual treatment is less transparency regarding the therapist’s training and skill level. By tapping into our existing Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) system, EMDR can be extremely effective, but the process must follow a strict set of steps and guidelines so working with a skilled EMDRIA approved and trained practitioner is highly recommended.
Applications of EMDR Therapy
Successful results of EMDR therapy with trauma survivors have led to its application and success with a wide range of disorders. Populations that have shown positive therapeutic results include:
- Diverse PTSD populations
- Individuals with anxiety disorders, panic disorders and phobias
- Crime victims, police officers and first responders
- Individuals struggling with excessive grief due to the loss of a loved one
- Victims of sexual and physical assault
- Individuals struggling with depression
- Individuals who have experienced a natural disaster
- Accident, surgery and burn victims
- Individuals with performance anxiety and those seeking performance enhancement
- Individuals suffering from somatic disorders and chronic pain