Though the name may be a bit intimidating, EMDR has humble beginnings. In 1988, a young psychology graduate student, Francine Shapiro, discovered on a walk through the park that certain eye movements reduced the distress caused by memories of her painful past. After experimenting with these eye movements, she developed a way to help people desensitize intense memories so they could be processed naturally and relegated to the past like any other memory.
After decades of extensive research and application, EMDR is now considered to be one of the most effective treatment options for trauma as well as for a host of other conditions. Its efficacy has been recognized by numerous national and international organizations:
The World Health Organization (WHO)
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
The U.S. Department of Defense
The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
The U.K. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
National Alliance on Mental Illness
The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies
The American Psychological Association
The American Psychiatric Association
Who Can EMDR Help And How Does It Work?
EMDR therapy is a non-invasive treatment method that can be used for children and adults of all ages. Whereas other models of therapy require you to complete homework between sessions or to talk in detail about the distressing experience, EMDR allows you to tackle trauma in bite-sized pieces, working on one distressing memory or event at a time. And rather than focusing on changing emotions, thoughts, and behaviors resulting from the issue, EMDR therapy empowers the brain to initiate its natural healing process.
The human brain has a unique quality called neuroplasticity. This means it can grow new neuropathways and heal itself on its own—even after a life-altering event. However, sometimes the memory of a life experience can be so painful that it gets anchored in the mind, replaying over and over again, as if the moment still hasn’t passed. In cases like that, anxiety, depression, panic, and PTSD can all arise because the pain hasn’t been fully processed—it’s still there in the background of everything.
Even though the brain has the capacity to heal itself, sometimes it needs a little help initiating those self-healing properties. EMDR therapy does just that. It minimizes the impact of painful memories so that your brain can do the natural work of processing the problematic memory and filing it away in the past where it belongs with all of your other memories. It doesn’t erase what has happened; it just takes away the memory’s power to hurt you anymore.
Though EMDR is an excellent treatment option for trauma and PTSD, it can also be used to address a number of other challenges:
Anxiety and Depression Disorders
Panic Attacks, Performance Anxiety, Phobias
Trauma due to Violence, Abuse, or Sexual Assault
Substance Abuse and Addiction
Bipolar, Dissociative, and Personality Disorders
Grief and Loss, Problems Sleeping, Eating Disorders
Starting Eye Movement Desensitization
and Reprocessing Therapy
The EMDR treatment process is broken down into eight phases
. In the initial phase, we’ll begin by gently taking a look at your
history, discussing your experience with trauma, and identifying
potentially difficult memories to target in the future.
The second phase is about preparation and teaching you skills, such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, and other coping strategies, to help you manage emotions both in and outside of sessions. The whole point is to not retraumatize you in any way, which is why we want to make sure you have the tools to keep you feeling safe and grounded, allowing EMDR to do its work.
In phases four through seven, we’ll begin processing the target issue or experience by focusing on a negative thought, memory, or image while your therapist instructs you to do specific eye movements. These eye movements create what’s called bilateral brain stimulation—a phenomenon similar to the rapid eye movements produced in REM sleep. This process enables both hemispheres of the brain to communicate, helping to desensitize and unlock stuck memories.
After the bilateral eye stimulation, your therapist will ask you to take a breath, let it go, and notice what you are seeing, thinking, and feeling. Your therapist will then either ask you to concentrate on what comes up so you can explore that further—or you can go back to the original focus until the target memory is fully processed. Then, in phase eight, we’ll evaluate your progress, and you can decide whether or not you would like to repeat the process with another target memory.
In just a few, short counseling sessions, EMDR therapy can help you experience a “reprogramming” of the brain that allows you to reprocess old, distressing memories and finally move beyond the past. As the brain stores those fragmented memories as a whole, the emotional impact is reduced, you can feel calmer, and though the past will still be there, it will no longer have the power to control how you live in the present.
Let Go Of The Past And Discover A New Way To Live
If you have experienced trauma in your life or you think that EMDR sounds right for you, we can help. In addition to weekly EMDR sessions, we also offer EMDR intensives. Please click here to learn more about our intensive options. Please email us or call 678-400-9477 to set up your first appointment or to schedule a free, 15-minute consultation with one of our EMDR-trained therapists. We would love to field any questions or concerns you may have about our approach to EMDR therapy and how it can help free you from a painful history.
What Exactly Is EMDR Therapy?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy—or EMDR—is a powerful therapeutic intervention used to address a range of mental health challenges. EMDR is particularly effective for treating individuals who have experienced trauma or other adversity in their lives, including anxiety, depression, panic attack disorders, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).