Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment developed in the late 1980s - could it help you heal from past trauma?

Treatment 101: What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. in the late 1980s. It was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories, such as with PTSD cases. Multiple studies show that those using EMDR can experience a quicker healing process. EMDR helps to remove emotional and mental blocks from the impact of disturbing events. Once this block is removed, patients can resume healing and move towards balanced mental health.

Treatment

EMDR therapy combines a number of elements to maximize treatment effects. Through EMDR therapy, patients are able to reprocess traumatic information until it is no longer psychologically disruptive. It takes the past, present, and future time periods into consideration. The past portion focuses on past disturbing memories and related traumatic events. And the present and future time periods focus on how to develop skills in order to cope with distressing and triggering events happening now. EMDR therapy addresses all this in an eight-phase treatment approach.

The therapist leads a patient in a series of lateral eye movements while the patient simultaneously focuses on various aspects of a disturbing memory. The left-right eye movements in EMDR therapy are a form of “bilateral stimulation”. Other forms of bilateral stimulation include alternating bilateral sound using headphones. Another option is alternating tactile simulation using a handheld device that vibrates or taps to the back of the patient’s hands. EMDR therapy is applicable to a wide range of psychological problems that result from overwhelming life experiences.

Phase One

During this phase, therapists will asses a client’s readiness for this kind of treatment plan. They collaboratively work to identify possible targets for EMDR processing. This can include current situations, distressing memories, or even related past incidences.

The goal is to develop skills and behaviors to help the client in future situations. Rehashing adolescent events helps a client gain insight into their emotional distress and begin to change their behavior. The length of treatment varies, but for those with a singular traumatic event can usually be treated in under 5 hours.

Phase Two

It is during this phase that therapists help clients accumulate a number of tools to cope with emotional distress. They may teach a variety of both imagery and stress reduction techniques to be used both during and between sessions.

Phases Three to Six

In phases three to six, clients are asked to identify four things:

  1. A vivid visual image related to the traumatic memory
  2. A negative belief about the self
  3. Related emotions and body sensations
  4. A new, positive belief

Therapists help clients rate the intensity of both the positive belief and negative emotions. Clients visualize and focus on the discussed image, negative thoughts, and physical sensations while the therapist engages in EMDR stimulation. Clients aren’t asked to do anything except notice whatever spontaneously happens during the session.

After each round of stimulation, clients are instructed to try and clear their mind. This is to help them notice the thoughts, feelings, images, memories, or sensations that come after. Depending on the response, the therapist will be able to re-direct attention during the next round. If the client becomes distressed or has difficulty in progressing, the therapist follows established procedures to help the client get back on track.

Phase Seven

Phase seven refers to the closure stage. Therapists ask clients to keep a log during the week. This log should document all related material that may arise. And it serves to remind the client of all coping techniques that have been mastered throughout this journey.

Phase Eight

It is in this phase that clients go through a process of reflection of the progress made thus far. EMDR treatment helps process all related historical events, current situations, and future events in which a client can apply coping techniques.

What Therapists Say

“EMDR is one of the most powerful tools I’ve encountered for treating posttraumatic stress. In the hands of a competent and compassionate therapist, it gives people the means to heal themselves.”

Steven Silver, Ph.D.
Former director of the PTSD  Unit,
Veterans Administration Medical Center,
Coatesville,  Pennsylvania

 “We believe that EMDR induces a fundamental change in brain circuitry similar to what happens in REM sleep — that allows the person undergoing treatment to more effectively process and incorporate traumatic memories into general association networks in the brain. This helps the individual integrate and understand the memories within the larger context of his or her life experience.”

Robert Stickgold, Ph.D.
Harvard Medical School

“EMDR quickly opens new windows on reality, allowing people to see solutions within themselves that they never knew were there. And it’s a therapy where the client is very much in charge, which can be particularly meaningful when people are recovering from having their power taken away by abuse and violation.”

Laura S. Brown, Ph.D.
Past Recipient of the American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Public Service

 CPA and EMDR

At CPA, we have a number of therapists who are certified in EMDR. Life is going to continually throw us obstacles. What matters most is not what comes our way, but how we cope with it. We know you need a toolbox full of skills in order to cope with the challenges that life throws at us. At CPA, we will always encourage patients to explore coping mechanisms that work best for them. However, we also know that a number of those skills come from counseling and different methods of therapy.

Cristina Panaccione and Associates has two locations in the South Hills and one office in Robinson Township. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so check out our videos to learn more about how we can help teach you the skills to cope with whatever life throws your way!

Darlene Friend – MSW, LCSW, EMDR 

Darlene graduated from California University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Social Work. As well as an Aging Specialist Certificate in Gerontology. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Pennsylvania. And a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker in West Virginia. She provides individual therapy, family therapy, and couples counseling, as well as group services. She is experienced in a wide variety of mental health conditions ranging from chronic and persistent mental illness to adjustment disorders and grief.  Darlene specializes in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), therapy utilized for big and little traumas that affect the whole person. She received training in many areas of behavioral health such as trauma and sexual assault. She incorporates multiple modalities and evidenced-based practices in therapy. This includes transactional analysis, cognitive behavioral therapy, and motivational interviewing. 

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