Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is colloquially known as EMDR, is a form of psychotherapy that encourages patients to heal from the emotional distress and other various symptoms that they may be experiencing due to post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Several, repeated studies have suggested that through EMDR therapy, individuals can gain the various benefits associated with psychotherapy that previously took several years to have an effect on them. What EMDR therapy shows is that our minds have the potential to heal from intense psychological trauma in ways similar to our bodies recovering from physical injuries.
For example, your body will use platelets to heal a cut. However, if you experience repeated injuries in the same spot or a foreign object of some sort enters the cut, you will not be able to heal properly or efficiently from your cut. But once whatever it was that was interrupting your healing process is removed, your body will be able to start healing once more. In this same vein, EMDR therapy has shown that there may be a similar series of events that occur in our brains as we try to heal from psychological injuries, or traumas.
EMDR therapy is generally performed over eight phases. During a session, your clinician will work with you to decide which traumatic memory you would like to target. They will then ask you to focus on different aspects of that thought or event as you use your eyes to follow your therapist’s hand, which will be moving back and forth, crossing your visual field. It has been speculated by a Harvard researcher that as this occurs, you may experience something similar to Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which will encourage internal associations to rise to the forefront and you will begin to effectively process the traumatic event and painful feelings associated with it.
To date, there have been over 30 positive controlled outcome studies performed to assess the efficacy of EMDR therapy. Some of these aforementioned studies have shown a 84-90% success rate in single trauma survivors; these individuals no longer suffer from PTSD after just three EMDR therapy sessions that last only 90 minutes apiece.
When EMDR therapy has been administered successfully, the meaning you associate with traumatic events will be transformed down to an emotional level. For example, someone who has survived sexual assault may initially feel shame, self disgust, and terror when they think back upon their experience. However, after undergoing EMDR therapy, the survivor may be able to instead say to themselves “I survived that experience and I am strong” instead of ruminating on triggering feelings and experiences.
It is important to remember, however, that EMDR therapy may not be best suited for everyone who is suffering from PTSD. Another form of therapy, which has been shown to be very effective in many individuals, is group therapy. In group therapy, individuals may be placed with others who are struggling with similar lived experiences or mental illnesses and led through various conversations and exercises by one or more licensed therapists or clinicians. A major benefit of group therapy is that it helps ensure its clients that they are not alone in the struggles they are living with.