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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Devine

Understanding EMDR: A Journey of Healing

What is EMDR?


Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic approach designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. Developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s, EMDR is a structured therapy that encourages the patient to briefly focus on the trauma memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation (typically eye movements), which is associated with a reduction in the vividness and emotion associated with the trauma memories.


EMDR is grounded in the idea that traumatic memories can cause ongoing distress because they are not properly processed. The goal of EMDR is to help the brain process these memories correctly, allowing normal healing to resume. It has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related conditions.


EMDR Therapy
EMDR

How Does EMDR Work?


EMDR therapy involves eight phases:

  1. History Taking: The therapist gathers detailed information about the client’s history and identifies targets for EMDR processing.

  2. Preparation: The therapist explains the treatment and helps the client develop ways to handle emotional distress.

  3. Assessment: The therapist and client identify specific memories to target, and the associated negative beliefs and emotions.

  4. Desensitization: The client focuses on the traumatic memory while following the therapist's finger or another stimulus that moves back and forth. This phase continues until the memory is no longer distressing.

  5. Installation: The therapist helps the client replace negative beliefs with positive ones.

  6. Body Scan: The client focuses on any physical sensations to ensure all residual trauma is cleared.

  7. Closure: The therapist ensures the client is stable and safe before leaving the session.

  8. Reevaluation: In subsequent sessions, the therapist checks the client's progress and identifies any new targets.


Sarah's Journey with EMDR


To illustrate the impact of EMDR, let’s follow Sarah's journey. Sarah is a 35-year-old woman who experienced a traumatic car accident five years ago. Despite physical recovery, Sarah struggled with severe anxiety and flashbacks that disrupted her daily life. She avoided driving and even being a passenger in a car triggered panic attacks.


Sarah sought help from a therapist trained in EMDR. In their initial sessions, Sarah's therapist explained the process and prepared her for the journey ahead. Sarah learned grounding techniques to help manage her anxiety during and between sessions.


During the assessment phase, Sarah and her therapist identified the car accident and the subsequent negative beliefs about her safety as targets for EMDR. Sarah believed she was always in danger and felt helpless.


As the desensitization phase began, Sarah followed her therapist’s finger movements with her eyes while recalling the accident. Initially, the memory was vivid and distressing. However, as the sessions progressed, Sarah noticed the memory became less intense and the associated emotions began to fade.


In the installation phase, Sarah and her therapist worked to replace her negative belief of “I am in danger” with a positive belief, “I am safe now.” This new belief became stronger as Sarah processed the memory through repeated EMDR sessions.


During the body scan phase, Sarah noticed lingering tension in her shoulders. Her therapist guided her to focus on this sensation until it too subsided, indicating the trauma was fully processed.


By the end of her EMDR therapy, Sarah felt a profound change. She no longer experienced flashbacks or panic attacks when thinking about the accident. She could drive again without fear, and her general anxiety levels had significantly decreased. Sarah's journey through EMDR allowed her to reclaim her life from the shadow of trauma.


Conclusion

EMDR is a powerful therapeutic approach that can help individuals process and heal from traumatic experiences. Sarah’s story is just one example of how this therapy can transform lives, providing relief from the burden of past traumas and fostering a sense of safety and well-being. If you or someone you know is struggling with the aftermath of trauma, consider exploring EMDR as a path to healing and recovery.


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