EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Conceived and developed by American psychologist Dr Francine Shapiro, this line of psychotherapy approach aims to help individuals who have experienced traumatic events (like treatment of PTSD) or other upsetting life experiences.
Both the EMDR Institute and EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) oversee the proper execution and training of EMDR therapy in the United States and around the world.
EMDR therapy is unlike other treatment approaches. In different types of treatment, mental health professionals may require individuals to complete homework assignments after sessions and/or speak extensively about the preoccupying subject.
Professional EMDR therapists, however, use a technique called bilateral stimulation. The purpose of the approach is to minimize the negative effects caused by adverse life experiences.
Multiple meta-analyses of scientific publications have reported EMDR as being an effective treatment for PTSD.
Bilateral stimulation can consist of the following aspects:
Bilateral stimulation is believed to help with information processing of traumatic flashbacks, Including replacing negative cognitions with those more positive. It also aims to guide patients as they engage with body sensations, thoughts, and feelings in a way similar to mindfulness and meditation.
EMDR is an eight-phase treatment. Individuals can receive sessions twice per week on a consecutive basis.
Various national and international health authorities and governmental bodies recognize the effectiveness of EMDR in the treatment of trauma.
These reputable institutions include:
Attachment-focused EMDR (AF-EMDR) builds upon the benefits of EMDR and bilateral stimulation to offer techniques for those less responsive to traditional EMDR approaches.
These three primary techniques include:
AF-EMDR (Attachment-Focused Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) differs from EMDR, taking into account issues such as acute or chronic relational trauma and attachment deficits. The model intends to heal early attachment wounds.
The original developer of AF-EMDR Dr Laurel Parnell suggested that by placing EMDR within an attachment-repair framework, patients could experience a more resolute, positive response to past traumas.
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Many individuals can benefit from EMDR therapy, including those with:
Other conditions that may make an individual a right candidate for EMDR therapy sessions include sleep disturbance, chronic illnesses, or dissociative disorders.
Both children and adults can undergo EMDR therapy.
EMDR therapy is composed of 8 phases, including:
Various studies have proved that EMDR therapy is an effective treatment for PTSD. It is one of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ strongly recommended treatment options for PTSD.
Some small studies have also discovered that EMDR therapy is not just effective in the short-term but that its results can be maintained long-term. One study taking place in 2004 assessed people several months after they were either provided with ‘standard care’ treatment for PTSD or EMDR therapy. The study noticed during and immediately after treatment that EMDR was more successful in reducing symptoms of PTSD.
During the three- and six-month follow-ups, the study also noticed that participants maintained the treatment benefits long after it had ended. Overall, the study found that EMDR therapy provided patients with a longer-lasting reduction in symptoms than standard care treatment.
Another small study of 32 people found that EMDR shows promise in treating depression. The study discovered that 68 percent of the people in the EMDR group showed complete remission following treatment. The EMDR group also demonstrated a stronger decrease in depressive symptoms overall.
However, more research is required due to the small sample size of the group.
As with any type of mental health intervention, it is recommended to undergo EMDR sessions with a properly trained and licensed mental health professional. Self EMDR or Self therapy EMDR without medical guidance may cause further problems and worsen symptoms associated with the condition in question.
In AD-EMDR, your therapist may show you how to use resource tapping™ outside of sessions in moments of distress caused by specific memories.
However, it is essential always to consult your nearest mental health professional if you are interested in pursuing any type of mental health treatment.
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“About EMDR Therapy.” EMDR International Association, 15 July 2020, www.emdria.org/about-emdr-therapy/.
Ehlers, Anke, et al. “Do All Psychological Treatments Really Work the Same in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?” Clinical Psychology Review, Elsevier Science, Mar. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2852651/.
“EMDR Institute – EYE MOVEMENT DESENSITIZATION AND REPROCESSING THERAPY.” Emdr Institute Inc, www.emdr.com/.
“Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 31 July 2017, www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/eye-movement-reprocessing.
“What Are EMDR and AF-EMDR.” Parnell Institute, 9 Aug. 2016, parnellemdr.com/emdr-and-af-emdr/.
VA/DOD Clinical Practice Guideline for Management of Post-Traumatic Stress, Department of Veteran's Affairs, 2010, https://www.healthquality.va.gov/guidelines/MH/ptsd/cpg_PTSD-full-201011612.PDF
Marcus, S., Marquis, P., & Sakai, C. (2004). Three- and 6-Month Follow-Up of EMDR Treatment of PTSD in an HMO Setting. International Journal of Stress Management, 11(3), 195–208. https://doi.org/10.1037/1072-5245.11.3.195, https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2004-17243-001
Hase, Michael et al. “Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy in the treatment of depression: a matched pairs study in an inpatient setting.” Brain and behavior vol. 5,6 (2015): e00342. doi:10.1002/brb3.342, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4467776/