Beyond Trauma - The Effectiveness of EMDR for Mental Health Conditions
Therapy has become a normalized way of resolving mental health conditions in today’s society. Often, when you think of therapy, you envision a professional in a chair speaking to a patient on “the couch.” While this representation is somewhat accurate, not all forms of therapy involve this process. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, or EMDR therapy for short, does not require long-winded sessions with a mental health professional. Read on to learn more about EMDR therapy.
How Does EMDR Work?
EMDR therapy is a heavily researched form of psychotherapy used to treat individuals suffering from trauma related to PTSD, anxiety and panic disorders, and depression.1 It has been proven to be effective in helping these individuals recover. Here’s how it works.
Bilateral stimulation is a process in which opposite sides of the body are stimulated in a pattern repeatedly. It can be done through sound, sight, or touch, depending on the most comfortable method of doing so. In EMDR, patients are shown images related to their trauma while undergoing bilateral stimulation (the movement of the eyes from right to left) to help them process the trauma. The same thing has been studied during REM sleep cycles.
The working memory method of EMDR therapy is related to the way the brain processes memories. During the bilateral stimulation of the eyes, the patient is shown distressing images. Results have shown that while the eyes are darting back and forth, the memory begins to reduce in vividness. It can be applied to negative memories, as well as highly traumatic memories.
EMDR tappers are used in conjunction with images that recall stressful or negative memories. They can increase the efficacy of the therapy, and have been shown to yield higher results than traditional talk therapy in some cases. The devices are handheld, and tap or buzz in an alternating fashion in the patient’s hands.
How Fast Does EMDR Therapy Work?
Depending on the individual, a single EMDR session can take anywhere from sixty to ninety minutes. To resolve a single traumatic event, however, it is generally several sessions before a resolution is reached.2
That being said, a study was done in 2014 regarding the efficacy of EMDR therapy. The study showed that twenty-four randomized control therapy sessions showed improvement regarding the negative events that were being treated. Roughly 70% of those showed better results than trauma-focused cognitive therapy, and over half noted a decrease in the vividness of the traumatic memories or events. 3
Benefits of EMDR Therapy
What Does an EMDR Therapy Session Look Like?
An EMDR therapy session is unlike that of a traditional therapy session. The event in which you will be focusing on is still the centerpiece of the session, but it is not talked about at length. Instead, the issue is presented to the therapist at the beginning of the session, and then internally focused on while the therapist assists the patient with the bilateral stimulation. These sessions last anywhere from sixty to ninety minutes, depending on the patient.
Who Performs EMDR Therapy?
As EMDR is a mental health intervention, it should be practiced by a licensed and properly trained mental health clinician. EMDR is a form of therapy, and should not be used as a way to self-treat, as it can worsen symptoms if done incorrectly.
EMDR for Addiction
Studies have shown that roughly 70% of individuals suffering from drug addiction have experienced some form of trauma exposure.5 These individuals form drug-seeking habits largely in part due to the mental effect the trauma holds on their lives. Many of these individuals who have experienced a traumatic event suffer from PTSD, major depression, and, comorbidly, substance abuse.
In another study, patients suffering from anxiety were given EMDR therapy. In the study, the group undergoing the EMDR therapy saw significantly reduced anxiety symptoms following the therapy sessions.6
EMDR for Mental Health Conditions
There are eight phases to EMDR therapy. They are listed and described below.