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EMDR Therapy: What is it & How Does it Work? by Lauren Christiansen

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As we progress into the future, there are more and more options available for those seeking help with anxiety and depression. One new technique is EMDR therapy. Here’s what to know about EMDR and how it might help those struggling with anxiety, depression, addiction, and trauma.

What is EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is an interactive psychotherapy technique that is utilized to treat stress, depression, and PTSD. During EMDR sessions, one relives triggering and traumatizing events in short intervals. An EMDR-trained therapist directs eye movements while the patient is relieving these experiences. Patients should undertake several EMDR sessions to see improvement in their ability to handle triggering circumstances in everyday life.

Why is EMDR Effective?

Confronting traumatic events that have affected a person later in life may be frightening, but it is usually essential. Many different events are considered traumatic. Obvious examples are war related traumas, neglect, abuse, or molestation. Traumatic events can also include seemingly innocuous circumstances that affected a person’s ability to cope later in life.

For example, Brian gave a speech at 13 years old. He forgot what he was supposed to say and everyone laughed at them. Though the grownup Brian doesn’t think that this particular event was a big deal, he notices that he continues to feel panicky whenever he has to give a presentation at work.

Children don’t have the coping mechanisms to process certain events or look at them in a rational matter. They often become internalized, and send a direct message that correlates a particular situation to fear. Triggering events can be small or big, but all of them shape the way people view the world and themselves later in life.

Over time, EMDR therapy is believed to lessen the impact that those triggering and traumatic events have on a person.

EMDR Process

Phase 1: History & Planning

A therapist will review a patient’s history and identify the trauma that a patient is experiencing. This will be utilized to set up a specific treatment plan.

Phase 2: Preparation

The therapist will then help the patient learn different everyday coping mechanisms to deal with the psychological stress they are experiencing. Techniques include deep breathing, meditation, or yoga. This is considered the traditional “therapy” stage of the EMDR process.

Phase 3: Assessment

During this phase, the therapist will identify each specific traumatic memory and its associated reaction, such as feelings of panic or nightmares. The therapist will separate the memory and reaction into different categories. For example:

Patient 1: Veteran

Memory 1: Saw friend die in battle

Reaction 1: Reoccurring nightmare of the event

Memory 2: Saw civilian and young child die

Reaction 2: Panic attack when seeing a toddler in normal life

Patient 2: Agoraphobia

Memory 1: Abused at a young age

Reaction 1: Afraid to let own child play with friends

Memory 2: Parent screamed and yelled in her face when the bed was made incorrectly

Reaction 2: Panic attack when her child’s bed is not made correctly

Phase 4-7:

The therapist will then begin utilizing EMDR techniques to treat each specific memory. During the session, the patient is asked to focus on a specific memory or image. The therapist will have the patient do eye movements where they focus on a beam of light. Afterward, the therapist will ask the patient to let the mind go blank, and then ask the patient what types of thoughts or spontaneous emotions they are experiencing. When these feelings are identified, the therapist may continue to focus on each event or move to the next event.

If it becomes too distressing, the therapist will bring the patient back into the present moment before moving on. Over time, distressing feelings will become less intense.

Phase 8 Evaluation

During this phase, the patient and therapist evaluate and reviews the session.

How Effective is EMDR?

Many studies have shown that EMDR therapy is a very effective method of treating PTSD and anxiety disorders. Though not proven, it has also shown to help depression, addiction, and agoraphobia. A 2012 study of 22 people found that EMDR therapy helped 77 percent of individuals. Other studies have shown that it is an effective long-term treatment.

Do you struggle with anxiety and depression? Have you considered counseling? Contact Straight Talk Counseling at or call us at 714-828-2000. One of our professional therapists would be happy to speak with you.

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