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Is EMDR For Me?

Hannah Hopper, LPC

Maybe you’ve heard of EMDR from a friend, your therapist has referenced it as a treatment to try, or you’ve seen it in a TV show. EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – is a type of therapy that uses bilateral stimulation or eye movements to help clients process and desensitize traumatic events and beliefs. It has quickly gained popularity since it was first developed, and is now one of the leading evidence-based therapies for trauma and PTSD.

How was it developed?

EMDR was discovered and developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1987 when she was walking in a park one day. She started to notice that her own traumatic memories were less distressing when she moved her eyes back and forth between the trees along the path. She realized that eye movements were able to desensitize experiences, and after doing some research she found this to be true for other people as well. After doing more research, Dr. Shapiro added a cognitive component and developed a procedure for what we now call EMDR. 

What is EMDR used for?

While EMDR was initially used to treat trauma and PTSD (flashbacks, distressing memories, etc.), it’s also effective with phobias, dissociation, pain disorders related to a medical condition, negative beliefs about self and others, addictions, anxiety, childhood neglect, and emotional abuse. EMDR is typically more effective over the course of a few sessions for a single traumatic incident such as a car crash, whereas processing multiple incidents of emotional abuse may need quite a few more sessions before there is a noticeable change.

How does it work?

EMDR has an impact on the way that the brain processes information and memories, working to release emotional experiences that are trapped in the nervous system. A therapist who is trained in EMDR will help you to identify a disturbing memory that is then paired with a thought or feeling. Next, the therapist will use bilateral stimulation (something that will stimulate both the left and right sides of your body like eye movements or tapping) to help you begin processing. During the bilateral stimulation the disturbing memories are reprocessed by the brain, taking painful and distressing emotions and replacing them with feelings of peace and resolution. 

Overall benefits of EMDR

One major benefit of EMDR is that it doesn’t require the client to talk much about the incident that is being processed. Talking about a traumatic event can be re-traumatizing in some instances, and with EMDR most of the processing is going on in the brain. Many people also report making progress faster using EMDR than with traditional talk therapy. Other benefits of EMDR include improving mood, more self-compassion and understanding of past experiences, improving self-worth, and a less intense psychological response to triggers of trauma. 

If you have more questions about EMDR, the EMDR Institute also has a page with frequently asked questions with more information on what the process is like. 

Coping with trauma can be difficult to do alone, and many people find counseling helpful with practicing grounding and healing from trauma.  If you’re ready to take that first step and schedule a counseling session with Symmetry Counseling, you can browse our therapist bios to find someone that’s the right fit for you. We also have several therapists that are trained in EMDR. You can also contact Symmetry Counseling today by calling 312-578-9990 to get matched with one of our therapists.

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