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    EMDR/Trauma Therapy

    Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

    Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an evidence-based treatment that has been extensively researched and widely used for supporting healing in people experiencing stress, trauma, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), eating disorders, grief, and substance abuse.


    History of EMDR

    EMDR was developed based on the idea that symptoms arise as a result of trauma or adverse experiences that become “stuck” and unable to be processed in a healthy and adaptive way, thereby impacting the brain’s natural ability to heal. These emotionally charged memories become stored in the limbic system instead of being transferred and filed in the left cerebral cortex with other neutral memories. This often results in people feeling triggered by present day experiences, as if the original trauma is happening all over again. Negative coping strategies can develop as a way to manage or avoid this experience, and can cause symptoms associated with anxiety and PTSD.

    Phases of EMDR

    Through its 8 phase approach and use of bilateral stimulation, EMDR aims to support people in reprocessing and adaptively storing these dysfunctional traumatic memories, resulting in increased insight and mental health and a greater ability to live in the present without being impacted by their past painful experiences.

    Phase 1 involves history taking to determine whether a client in an appropriate candidate for EMDR therapy. Once the therapist and client decide to move forward, they work together to identify traumatic experiences to be targeted for reprocessing and a treatment plan is developed. Phase 2 (preparation phase) outlines the process of EMDR. The therapist and client work on mindfulness and relaxation strategies to help the client manage any distressing feelings that might arise during the process or in between EMDR sessions. In phase 3, the target memory is identified. The client is asked to focus on a disturbing image that represents the traumatic event and identify negative beliefs they hold about themselves surrounding the negative experience. A positive, or more adaptive belief is also generated as well as a focus on ones feelings and body experiences associated with the distressing memory. In phase 4 (desensitization), bilateral stimulation (eye movements, or tappers) is used to support the client in having associations to the target memory, until resolution of the target is reached. In the installation phase of EMDR (phase 5), the clients’ positive identified belief is strengthened in order to replace the negative belief identified in in phase 3. The final phases of EMDR, the original target memory is evaluated to determine in any physical distress remains. If so, reprocessing continues. If the original memory no longer holds a negative charge for the client, the client and therapist move forward to the closure phase and discuss future targets and directions for treatment.

    When is EMDR used?

    Often, people seek our EMDR therapy when they feel stalled in therapy or report that other treatment methods have not adequately helped to alleviate their symptoms. Therefore, clients who are currently in long-term therapy often seek out an adjunct EMDR therapist to support the work they are doing with their primary therapist. It is the role of the EMDR therapist to collaborate closely with one’s primary therapist, supporting a deepening of their work. The goal of an adjunct EMDR therapist is to support the remediation of symptoms or issues that have not been able to be resolved with talk therapy alone.

    How long does EMDR take?

    Most commonly, EMDR sessions are between 60 and 90 minutes in duration and, on average, consist of between 6 to 12 sessions. Although EMDR is typically a time limited treatment, every client has different needs and may move through the phases of treatment at different rates.

    How will it feel?

    Like in other therapies, clients beginning EMDR may report some slight increase in emotional distress prior to experiencing some improvement in symptoms. Your therapist will support you through this process and encourage use of the skills learned in phase 2 to manage any discomfort that may arise. At the conclusion of an EMDR treatment, most clients report general feelings of relief, feeling more confident about themselves and the future, being able to feel and experience aspects of their lives in different ways than they had previously been able to, and a reduction or resolution of trauma symptoms.