EMDR Therapy: The Powerful Treatment for Trauma You Haven't Heard of

Feb 15, 2024
EMDR Therapy: The Powerful Treatment for Trauma You Haven't Heard of

The unstoppable “instant replay” of traumatic memories may be a constant torment in your life, but it doesn’t have to be. Discover how eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy helps you process lingering trauma, one memory at a time.

If your brain doesn’t effectively process and store a traumatic experience, it can continue to affect you for years. Later, when circumstances arise that is in any way similar to that original trauma, you may find yourself experiencing the same upsetting and overwhelming emotions you felt when the trauma first occurred. 

This uncontrollable “instant replay” is all too familiar for people who live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and even those with less obviously traumatic pasts.  But there’s hope. A seasoned trauma expert can help patients heal from lingering trauma using Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

Developed in 1987 for the treatment of PTSD, EMDR is a profound, evidence-based treatment that can help you reclaim your mental health and a fulfilling quality of life. 

What is EMDR therapy?

EMDR therapy uses bilateral stimulation — usually in the form of rapid side-to-side eye movements, but sometimes in the form of rhythmic tapping — to help your brain process and integrate traumatic memories, effectively diminishing their power over your emotions.  

Stress and anxiety responses are part of your natural fight, flight or freeze instincts. But when distress from a traumatizing event remains, the unsettling memories can trigger overwhelming feelings that take you right back to that moment. Those symptoms are a product of the insufficient processing and integration of traumatic memories: sensory, cognitive, and mood. 

When you undergo EMDR therapy, your brain reprocesses traumatic memories and stores them properly in the past, preventing the original trauma from getting triggered in the present, when similar circumstances arise.  The memories remain, but no longer trigger the a fight, flight or freeze response.

What is EMDR therapy like?

EMDR is an individual, short-term psychotherapy conducted one or two times per week, usually for a total of 6-12 sessions in eight structured phases: 

Phase 1: History and planning

First, our therapists gather your complete history and confirm your eligibility for the treatment. Then, you work together to identify your treatment targets, from traumatic memories and current triggers to long-term recovery goals.  

Phase 2: Preparation

During phase 2, your therapist explains EMDR in detail and coaches you through an exercise where you can practice the eye movements and/or another bilateral stimulation method.

Phase 3: Target memory assessment

In the third phase, you activate the traumatic memory you wish to target by identifying and assessing each element of the memory: images, thoughts, body sensations, and mood. Your therapist uses rating scales to measure your cognition and emotion as you assess the target memory; these scales are also used to evaluate your cognitive changes as the therapy progresses. 

Phases 4-7: Memory processing and resolution

During the fourth phase of EMDR therapy (desensitization), you focus on the target memory while simultaneously engaging in eye movements or another form of bilateral stimulation. If your session involves rhythmic eye movements, your therapist simply moves an object back and forth as you follow the motion with your eyes.   

After you report new thoughts or feelings, your therapist resets your treatment focus for the following brief bilateral stimulation set. This process continues until your target memory no longer causes distress.  

During the fifth phase of EMDR (installation), you work on strengthening your newly formed positive cognition response. In the sixth stage (body scan), you monitor your physical response as you think of both the targeted memory and your positive cognition response. If there are any residual signs of distress, you continue using bilateral stimulation to process it.   

Finally, in the seventh phase (closure), your EMDR session ends. If the target memory isn’t fully processed, your therapist gives you specific instructions and techniques to help you contain it until the next session. 

Phase 8: Evaluation of results

Conducted at the start of the next session, the re-evaluation phase assesses your current mental state, determines which treatment effects have remained since the prior session, and looks for new memories that may have emerged in the meantime.  

If you haven’t fully integrated your target memory — or if you have a different traumatic memory to target — you return to the third phase and begin the process anew. 

Is EMDR therapy right for me?

For most people who live with unresolved trauma, EMDR therapy can be incredibly beneficial. And unlike conventional psychotherapy, you don’t necessarily have to reveal a ton of detail about the traumatic event, something many people find helpful.  

EMDR therapy isn’t suitable for everyone; however — trauma reprocessing can be too intense for people affected by certain conditions, including neurological impairments, psychotic disorders, or an unstable substance use disorder.

If you’re ready to make the cognitive shift that will release you from your trauma, the team at Happy Apple can help. Call 646-351-6418 to reach our office in New York City or request an appointment online.