For many people, when a traumatic or upsetting experience occurs, the brain’s response is to push it aside and try to ignore it, since recalling traumatic memories is often unpleasant. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, takes a different approach. The goal is this therapy is to relive a memory, but to fully process it as you do with the help of your therapist so that you can finally move past experiences that seem to have gotten stuck in your mind.
In order to do this, EMDR uses an 8 stage approach that your psychologist will guide you through. These stages use an evidence-based approach to help you bring memories forth and successfully reprocess them.
What to Expect from EMDR Therapy
Because you will be reprocessing what are often challenging memories, many patients want to know what they can expect from EMDR before they begin. While you will go over this in depth with your psychologist before you begin treatment, it can be helpful to know the 8 stages that you and your therapist will go through together. These are:
- History and Treatment Planning – EMDR will be highly specific to your experiences so the first step is speaking with your therapist about whether or not EMDR is the right choice for you, as well as get a full picture of your clinical history and symptoms. You will also discuss which targets, or memories, that you will address during EMDR.
- Preparation – You and your therapist will build a “Therapeutic Alliance.” This means that you are both working towards the same goal of helping you overcome this past trauma. During this time, you can also ask any questions you have about the process and build a better expectation of the results.
- Assessment – In this stage, your therapist will help you identify the first memory that you are going to process. Together, you will decide on the mental image you have of this memory, the physical sensations you experience, and the negative beliefs you may hold regarding this memory. You will also come up with a positive belief that you will put in place of the negative one.
- Desensitization – Next, you will recall the traumatic event while your therapist uses bilateral stimulation. This causes you to process the traumatic event while also keeping your focus on something else to reduce your overall sensitization to the trauma.
- Installation – Once you have almost no discomfort with the memory of an event, you will put your new positive belief into place by focusing on it here. You will continue working on it until it feels like it is completely true.
- Body Scan – While you focus on your on the memory and on your new positive thought about it, you will do a body scan to see if there is any lingering discomfort that needs to be processed.
- Closure – Once processing is complete or session is finished for the time being, your psychologist will help you come back to the current moment and be calm once more.
- Reevaluation – The final stage is to evaluate how processing went in order to determine if any memories need to be revisited or additional traumas have come up that should also be addressed during treatment.
Stages 4 through 8 can be repeated as many times as necessary for all of the different experiences you need to process. For individuals with a single trauma, EMDR can often take only a few sessions to complete the process. Those with multiple traumas may require longer treatment programs, but in general, have a high rate of success for a wide range of traumatic experiences.
Dr. Randa is a clinical psychologist at Friendly Psychology who specializes in EMDR treatment for PTSD and trauma therapy. She works with adults from a range of backgrounds to help process and overcome negative experiences in order to live happier lives where they can focus their energy on the present and future.
Located in Tempe, Arizona, Dr. Randa is licensed in Missouri, Kansas and Arizona and provides all of her treatments remotely so that you can get assistance from wherever you are. Contact us today to learn more about EMDR therapy.