How EMDR Therapy Can Help You Heal from Trauma

Couple working with therapist to process trauma

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a unique and effective approach for treating trauma and trauma-related disorders. Developed in 1987 by Dr. Francine Shaprio, EMDR has grown in popularity and acceptance as a substantial method for treating trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This structured therapy uses certain eye movements to change the way a trauma memory is stored in the brain. 

If you have experienced trauma in your past and are using drugs or alcohol to cope, EMDR can help you make a full recovery. Let’s learn more about this therapy and how it’s being used to treat trauma. 

What Is EMDR? How Does it Work? 

EMDR is a psychotherapy technique used to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. Unlike traditional talk therapy, EMDR focuses directly on the memory and how it is stored in the brain. Doing this reduces and eliminates the problematic symptoms, such as flashbacks, nightmares and other physical sensations. Talk therapies, on the other hand, focus on emotions, thoughts and responses. It’s a different approach, but both therapies work together well to help people recover from trauma. 

8 Phases of EMDR 

There are eight distinct phases involved in EMDR. Here is a brief overview of each phase: 

  1. History and treatment planning. In the first stage, your therapist will assess your history and choose which memories to target. This could be an experience with sexual assault or witnessing someone get hurt in an accident. 
  2. Preparation. Your therapist will explain the treatment process, what to expect and which memories you will be targeting. Trust is also important. 
  3. Assessment. This phase requires you to identify a vivid visual image related to the memory you’re targeting, a belief about yourself and related emotions and body sensations. 
  4. Desensitization. The therapist now leads you in sets of side-to-side eye movements, sounds or taps while you focus on the traumatic memory. This goes on until the memory is no longer disturbing. 
  5. Installation. A positive belief is strengthened and “installed” to replace the negative beliefs you had. 
  6. Body scan. You will be asked to think of the incident and notice if you feel any physical discomfort. If you do experience any, your therapist will likely suggest further processing. 
  7. Closure. The therapy session is concluded, and you are brought back to equilibrium.
  8. Reevaluation. At the beginning of subsequent sessions, your therapist will check in with you and see how your progress is going. 

EMDR Therapy Model for Trauma

How EMDR Helps in Trauma Recovery 

Let's look closer at the different ways that EMDR can help you heal from trauma: 

Reduce emotional distress 

The primary goal of EMDR is to reduce the emotional distress associated with traumatic memories. Through bilateral stimulation (eye movements), EMDR mimics the psychological state you enter into during REM sleep. This helps your brain process traumatic memories and reduce their harmful impact. 

Changes how memories are stored 

Another way that EMDR works is by altering how traumatic memories are stored in the brain. This is achieved by accessing the brain’s natural healing processes, which are thought to be stimulated during the eye movement phase. This changes how the brain stores the memories, as well as the intense emotional responses elicited. 

Improves view of self 

Trauma can seriously impact a person’s self-esteem and view of the world. EMDR helps to replace these beliefs with healthier, more positive beliefs. This can enhance your view of yourself and the world, making it easier to trust others, believe in yourself and improve overall mental health. 

Reduces physical symptoms 

Many individuals with PTSD experience physical symptoms like panic attacks, shaking or heart palpitations. EMDR has been shown to reduce and even eliminate these negative sensations, giving you the ability to enjoy life to the fullest. 

Effective and rapid results 

You don’t have to wait long to see results from EMDR. In fact, it often shows results faster than traditional types of talk therapy, significantly reducing negative symptoms after just a few sessions. While not guaranteed, some people see permanent results from their EMDR sessions. Others may need follow-up sessions down the road. 

What are Some Common FAQs About EMDR?

Since EMDR is still relatively new, it’s normal to have questions about this therapy. Below are some of the most common questions that clients ask: 

How many EMDR sessions will I need? 

While each person is unique, most people need about 6 to 12 sessions delivered 1 to 2 times a week. Some people may need fewer or more sessions depending on their needs and the type of trauma they experienced. For instance, people with complex trauma may need more EMDR sessions. 

How long does it take to see success? 

Most people who undergo EMDR therapy find that their symptoms improve after just several sessions. However, how quickly you see results depends on many factors, which is why some people benefit from having weekly sessions for several months while others may only need a few sessions spaced out over a longer time. 

What is the success rate of EMDR therapy? 

Research shows favorable outcomes when it comes to EMDR. Success rates are between 80 and 90 percent in terms of reducing or eliminating PTSD symptoms associated with traumatic memories. 

Does EMDR have negative side effects? 

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is generally very safe, but it is possible to experience negative effects such as an increase in distressing memories, heightened emotions and greater physical sensations during the session. 

EMDR Therapy in Easton, PA 

EMDR is a powerful therapeutic tool for addressing and healing from trauma. It provides an alternative to traditional talk therapy by focusing on altering the emotions, thoughts and responses resulting from traumatic experiences. While EMDR may not be suitable for everyone, it offers a promising option for many who have not benefited from conventional treatments. 

To learn more about EMDR and how it can help you process unresolved trauma from your past, contact Recovery Cove at 484-549-COVE today. EMDR can be a powerful tool when healing from both trauma and substance use disorders.