The eyes are the windows to the soul, it sounds cliché, but in this case, it might be telling the truth. Your emotion is clear, and your eyes reflect the pain and suffering you have been through. Okay, maybe those big, beautiful eyes do not actually show all of that, but your eye movement just might.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy is also known as EMDR and is psychotherapy that reprograms the way you think about your traumatic memory.
EMDR was originally developed in 1987 for treating PTSD and has been used ever since to help people successfully cope with the traumas they have faced. EMDR is also a recognized form of treatment by the American Psychiatric Association.
What Happens During an EMDR Session?
During a series of EMDR therapy sessions, your therapist will track the movement of your eyes along with rhythmic bilateral (right/left sides of your brain) stimulation through a series of sounds while you process your emotionally distressing memory.
These memories are believed to hold distressing unprocessed emotions, thoughts, sensations, and beliefs that happened at the time of your traumatic event. The goal of the sessions is to reduce the distressing emotion associated with your memory and help your brain be able to better process and store it.
When a distressing memory is stored, you can experience symptoms of PTSD. EMDR focuses on the way that your brain functions and works on changing the way that your brain has stored your memory. When EMDR successfully changes the way that your brain processed and stored, you will find that your PTSD starts to disappear.
As you are focusing on your traumatic memory, the therapist is tracking your eye movement along with the bilateral stimulation. This shows them what your brain stored, why it is causing you distress and gives them the information they can use to then essentially reprogram how your brain stored the memory. This differs from traditional counseling that aims to change your thoughts, emotions, and responses, not the way your brain stores your memory. EMDR does not require practicing anything at home and has successfully proven to be a method that quickly diminishes the effect of your trauma.
Typically, you attend anywhere from 6 – 12 sessions about an hour long. Depending on how many traumas you face determines how many sessions you will attend. For example, one trauma takes around 1 to 3 sessions.
“More than thirty positive controlled outcome studies have been done on EMDR therapy. Some of the studies show that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute sessions.”
There are eight phases in EMDR:
- During the first phase, your therapist takes a history of the past trauma or traumas that are plaguing you and current situational stressors. Your therapist also identifies certain skills that will be developed during your session.
- Phase two is about managing the emotion that you are about to face. The therapist will arm you with valuable techniques that you will use during the session and in the future.
- Phases three through six is where the practical details happen. First, you pick a positive belief that will be used during the session. Focusing on one of the traumas you will identify three things. The first is the visual imagery associated with the memory. Second is finding a negative belief about yourself in that moment. Lastly, you will focus on the emotions and sensations tied to the memory.
While you are focusing on the event your therapist is engaging you in bilateral stimulation, tracking your eye movement, and playing sounds. When your therapist does this you are instructed to note any change that might happen to your memory.
After your therapist is done with the round of stimulation, you are asked to clear your mind and then state the first thought, feeling, or emotion that comes to mind. You will repeat this as many times as necessary until you can no longer associate any negative ties to the memory.
You are then asked to repeat the procedure with your positive belief. When you have successfully taken out all the negative emotions tied to the first traumatic memory, you may then move onto the next memory.
If at any time you start to experience an emotion that becomes too much for you, you can stop and revert to step two until you are calm and collected.
Phase seven is about logging what you feel during the week while you are home.
Phase eight is an evaluation of the progress made with the treatment so far. You must process all triggering events that are associated with the traumatic memory, so if you need to repeat the process you can until all the traumatic memories have been reprogrammed.
EMDR therapy has successfully treated many PTSD patients for over 25 years now. Your memories no longer hold the pain, and neither do your eyes.