EMDR therapy focuses on changing the emotions, thoughts or behaviors that result from trauma. It can be used to treat anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is also effective in treating other conditions, including eating disorders, phobias and substance use problems. The technique is based on research showing that the mind, body and brain are linked. Trauma is stored in the brain as a memory and can trigger physical or emotional responses even when it isn’t present.
During an EMDR Therapy session, your healthcare provider will ask you to focus on the traumatic memory while following their hand with your eyes. This helps you access the memory, allowing your brain to begin processing it. The therapist may also touch your shoulders or hands, tap on the sides of your face or use a sound device that plays tones on both sides of the head to help you engage with the memory.
In the first few sessions, your therapist will discuss your history with trauma and other mental health issues, along with your current symptoms. They will also explain how trauma affects the mind and can seem like it will never go away. They will then begin to work with you on reprocessing your traumatic memories, using the bilateral stimulation.
After you recall a memory, your therapist will ask you about any negative beliefs that come up and any disturbing feelings, sensations or associations you have. Your therapist will also encourage you to keep a journal of your experiences so they can monitor the intensity of your feelings between sessions.
As the session continues, you will be asked to continue following the therapist’s finger with your eyes. You will also be encouraged to note any positive cognitions that surface. If the memory feels too painful to process, your therapist will work with you to find a more manageable target. They will then repeat the reprocessing steps with the new target.
The reprocessing phase is intended to create an experience of safety and closure. The therapist will repeat the previous steps until they are confident that you can think about the original target without experiencing negative body tension or other unpleasant physical sensations.
In the final stage of reprocessing, you will be asked to focus on your future goals and how your life would be different if the traumatic event were to occur again. You will also be prompted to think about the positive changes you have experienced since reprocessing the memory.
You will then be reevaluated for progress and given instructions about what to do between sessions. Your therapist will likely recommend that you do a journal entry about any negative images or thoughts that come up and discuss visualization techniques and relaxation exercises to help keep you calm between treatment sessions. They will also let you know if they think it is appropriate to treat any new memories that have emerged since the last session. They will also make sure that you feel safe and supported until the next session.