How Does EMDR Therapy Work?

Many of us carry fears and shadows that we’d like to leave behind, but instead, we turn to drugs and alcohol to escape our fears and anxieties or try to cope with them. Unfortunately, using mood-altering substances to mask pain or anxiety tends to cause arrests, addictions, and a continuing problem. If you need help walking away from anxiety and other mental conditions like addiction, you might consider EMDR therapy. Let’s learn what EMDR therapy is including its creation, how it works, and what it can be used for.

What is EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. That’s a mouthful but the EMDR process is simple and complex at the same time. EMDR is a form of psychotherapy, which seeks to explore the brain to help relieve a stress, trauma, or other condition.

As the full name implies, EMDR involves training the eye on movements and patterns and translating those movements to transitions in thought patterns. EMDR is relatively new to psychology, but its positive effects and demonstrable results have made it a popular form of therapy for treating mental illness including PTSD, anxiety, and addiction. It has even earned its way to the Practice Guidelines of the American Psychiatry Association as an effective treatment.

Let’s explore how the technique was developed before diving into the nitty-gritty of what you can expect during an EMDR session.

How Was EMDR Developed?

EMDR wasn’t developed in a lab or through some secret experiments, it was developed during a walk in the woods. Francine Shapiro found her walk clouded by bad memories and a foul mood. Shapiro noticed that her eye movements around her walk began to lessen the power of her negative thoughts. She began experimenting with the eye movements on herself, before trying it on others. Shapiro found those she experimented on also reported the same positive benefits she experienced.

Shapiro further developed and tested the technique in a controlled setting and still got positive results. EMDR as an effective therapy was born. The techniques and practices continue to evolve from its beginnings in 1987.

emdr therapy session

How EMDR Works

EMDR is an eight-phase process that focuses on the past, present, and future to help alleviate stress, trauma, and other conditions. Let’s review these eight phases from the EMDR Institute, Inc. so you know exactly what to expect if you schedule a session.

  1. Patient History

You will sit down with the therapist before the therapy begins to give a history and to discuss the EMDR process. You and the therapist may identify targets for processing such as traumatic experiences or issues that are causing emotional distress like addiction. Initial sessions begin, and a treatment plan is devised.

  1. Lessons in Stress Reduction

Phase 2 involves teaching the patient stress-reduction techniques to use during or between therapy sessions. The therapist uses imagery, and other techniques to teach ways to destress the client in everyday life.

Phases 3 through 6 are used to help the patient identify and process a target using EMDR techniques. During these phases, the patient will identify three things to help them get over their phobia, trauma, or another setback.

  1. Identify a lucid and vivid picture related to the memory, trauma, or problem.
  2. Identify a negative belief the patient carries about themselves
  3. Discuss the emotions and bodily responses that these two phases create.
  4. A positive belief the patient carries about themselves

After these phases, the therapist will discuss the intensity of the negative beliefs compared to the positive ones. The client is encouraged to think about phases 3 and 4 and the physical response they create while engaged in an active EMDR session. After EMDR stimulation, the client is asked to revert to a blank mind, then allow any thought or sensation to come to mind.

Depending on what happens after stimulation and what the patient sees when they let their mind go blank, the therapist will continue using different imagery and EMDR techniques until the client begins to feel less negative emotion than before when thinking about phases 3 and 4. Once the client reports little to no negative emotion after stimulation, they are asked to think about phase 6.

  1. Closure

After the session, the EMDR therapist will ask the patient to keep a diary or log throughout the week. The patient is encouraged to write down any negative thoughts, positive thoughts, or any other thoughts a client might need to discuss and tackle during the next session. The log also helps patients use phase 2 to instantly calm any negative feelings.

  1. Reevaluation

The patient and therapist will continue to meet, go through sessions, and practice EMDR techniques until the emotion or other trauma doesn’t affect their daily lives.

EMDR and Mental Health

Trauma, drug use, and anxiety play a large role in mental health, which made EMDR an instant hit to help patients suffering from a variety of mental illnesses including PTSD. You can find information on EMDR in a variety of mental health outlets including the Veteran Affairs’ post-traumatic stress disorder website. Like most treatment plants, EMDR is often just one part of a treatment plan along with medication, other forms of therapy like cognitive-behavioral therapy, and a focus on diet and exercise.

EMDR and Addiction

EMDR has become a favorable therapy for treating addiction. Addiction is classified as a mental illness, which EMDR has already shown benefits for. Many recovery centers and detox clinics across the country have begun utilizing EMDR for its demonstratable positive effects for those in early and continued recovery. Unlike EMDR for specific trauma, the therapist will focus on negative emotions and feelings regarding the client’s addiction and feeling about themselves.

EMDR is a new player in the therapy scene but has quickly become popular across the country. If you need help with addiction, trauma, or other hindrance, continue scheduling an EMDR session with your other forms of treatment.

Getting Help

No matter how addicted you are to drugs and/or alcohol, getting help is always considered the best thing that you can do for yourself. If you are intrigued by the 12-Step methodology, seeking out a treatment center that meets your needs and provides this type of therapy can be an excellent starting point for you.

Here, we are deeply rooted in 12-Step therapy and utilize it in the treatment of all of our clients. Plus, we encourage continued participation in this program after leaving rehab. Continuing to do things that increase your odds of remaining sober will undoubtedly keep you on the right path forward.

Do not wait any longer. Contact us right now to get the help you deserve.

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