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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing for Treating PTSD

stressed military man in uniform sitting on sofa near white wall indoors.

What is EMDR:

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.  It is primarily used as a treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, by using bilateral stimulation in various forms, the patient is able to process traumatic memories.

Types of Bilateral Stimulation:

There are three main forms of bilateral stimulation.  One way of using bilateral stimulation for EMDR is following the therapist’s fingers back and forth from side to side.  Another form of bilateral stimulation is by tapping the leg on one side than the other. Bilateral stimulation can also occur by putting on headphones and hearing beeping in one ear and then the other alternating back and forth.

Why It Works:

The theory is that the memory’s causing PTSD are memories that were never processed properly.  EMDR allows the client to safely reprocess these memories, attach positive statements and feelings to them, and refile them in the brain so they are no longer intrusive.

The Eight Phases of EMDR:

Phase 1: The first phase focuses on history taking.  During the history taking the therapist asks the client about the emotional issues and behaviors that made them want to seek treatment. In this phase, the therapist decides which behaviors and symptoms will be addressed through EMDR therapy. It is also in this phase that the therapist assesses the client’s readiness and also tries to identify any secondary gains the client may be getting from the behaviors and symptoms that are problematic. Phase 2: This phase is about forming a therapeutic relationship.  The therapist discusses the expectations of therapy and explains the treatment process. The client must learn coping mechanisms to appropriately deal in between sessions with the trauma memories that are brought up in EMDR therapy. Phase 3: During Phase 3 the therapist and client pick a memory to process.  The client picks the strongest image they can to represent the trauma. Then they must identify thoughts, emotions, and body sensations that go along with the image.  The client also picks some positive beliefs to replace negative beliefs, emotions, and body sensations. Phases 4: In this phase, the client focuses on the chosen memory while engaging in some form of bilateral stimulation.  The client reports to the therapist about any new material that emerges from this. It is the job of the therapist to then guide the client to process this new material using the same bilateral stimulation. Phase 5: Phase five is concerned with coming up with new positive thoughts and beliefs to replace the negative ones that were developed during and after the trauma. Phase 6: This is the body scan phase.  The client is invited to focus on how their body physically feels while processing the various feelings that come up around re-experiencing the negative imagery associated with the trauma. If the client comes up with negative somatic complaints, those feelings are processed through the same bilateral stimulation. Phase 7: Gaining closure is the point of this phase.  Closure in EMDR is using positive coping mechanisms to deal with any of the negative thoughts and feelings that came up in the session.  The patient goes through closure at the end of each session to keep themselves safe. In between sessions, bothersome symptoms may arise as a result of the work that was done during therapy.  As a result, the client is asked to keep track of them and work on stabilizing themselves through further bilateral stimulation. Phase 8: This final phase is used to review the client’s current state in dealing with all the emotions and thoughts, to review the progress made, and to review any new images that might have popped up for them.  This re-evaluation phase is used to come up with new material (images, thoughts, and feelings), to deal with in the next session. Call us today for more information!