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    Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy technique used to treat anxiety, PTSD, and more.

    In 1990 psychologist Francine Shapiro developed a new type of psychotherapy known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR. EMDR therapy is an effective treatment option for people suffering from anxiety, panic, PTSD, or trauma. It’s a way to get past your past.

    According to the EMDR Research Foundation, EMDR has been clinically validated by more than 30 randomized, controlled studies (the gold standard for clinical studies).¹

    EMDR is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma. EMDR therapy includes a set of standardized protocols that incorporate elements from many different treatment approaches and has relieved psychological trauma for millions of people of all ages.

    EMDR therapy is a phased, focused approach to treating trauma and other symptoms by reconnecting the traumatized person in a safe and measured way to the images, self-thoughts, emotions, and body sensations associated with the trauma, and allowing the natural healing powers of the brain to move toward adaptive resolution.

    It is based on the idea that symptoms occur when trauma and other negative or challenging experiences overwhelm the brain’s natural ability to heal, and that the healing process can be facilitated and completed through bilateral stimulation while the client is re-experiencing the trauma in the context of the safe environment of the therapist’s office (dual awareness).


    Concerned about PTSD?


    Romas Buivydas, PhD, LMHC, vice president of clinical development for Spectrum Health Systems, says EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment. “It identifies and addresses traumatic experiences that have overwhelmed the brain’s natural coping capacity, and, as a result, have created traumatic symptoms, such as flashbacks or anxiety, or harmful coping strategies, such as isolating behavior and self-medication with alcohol or drugs,” he explains.

    Through EMDR, individuals safely reprocess traumatic information until it is no longer psychologically disruptive to their lives. Over time, exposure to traumatic memories will no longer induce negative feelings and distressing symptoms.

    EMDR has eight phases of treatment:²

    • History taking
    • Client preparation
    • Assessment
    • Desensitization
    • Installation
    • Body scan
    • Closure
    • Reevaluation of treatment effect

    During EMDR, the person being treated focuses on a disruptive memory and identifies the belief they hold about themselves. If it is connected to a negative memory the technique teaches the person to change their view of themselves by learning to associate it with a positive belief instead.

    For example, it is common for victims of abuse to feel they “deserved” the abuse. EMDR helps the person to see that as self-destructive thinking. So “I deserved it” becomes “I am a worthwhile and good person in control of my life.”

    All the sensations and emotions associated with the memory are identified. The individual then reviews the memory while focusing on an external stimulus that creates rapid (or bilateral) eye movement. Typically this is done by watching the therapist move two fingers. After each set of bilateral movements (usually involving both eyes), the individual is asked how they feel.

    This process continues until the trauma has been processed and the memory is no longer disturbing to the individual. The selected positive belief is then “installed”, via bilateral movement, to replace the negative belief.

    Sessions typically last for an hour. It is theorized that EMDR works because the “bilateral stimulation” bypasses the area of the brain that processes memories and has become stuck due to the trauma. When a difficult/traumatizing memory is stuck, it prevents the brain from properly processing and storing the memory.

    During EMDR, individuals process the memory safely and that leads to a peaceful resolution. The experience results in increased insight regarding both previously disturbing events and the negative thoughts about themselves that have grown out of the original traumatic event.

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