Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects millions of Americans, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. The symptoms of PTSD can lead to unemployment, homelessness, depression, and even violent outbursts.

There are few ways to effectively treat PTSD, and most of them require a large array of, often expensive, medication. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, also known as EMDR, is an effective therapy to help those suffering from the disorder. With the use of rapid and rhythmic eye movement, patients can process their trauma and come to terms with it through a calm and effective process.

A History

The history of EMDR therapy can be traced back to 1987. According to Today’s Dietitian, Francine Shapiro was a graduate student in psychology. In her research, she discovered a link between eye movement and psychological and emotional processes. Lateral eye movements, she discovered, could be connected to negative thoughts and emotions.

Her research focused on monitoring subjects as they made these lateral eye movements, and she discovered that when the eye was brought back into focus, so was the mind. All disturbing and negative responses became manageable as the eye focused, showing a direct link between eye movement and thought processes. She did numerous random tests to ensure her findings. Through working with many people who had undergone trauma, she found that refocusing the eyes helped refocus the mind away from negative emotions created by trauma, to a place where the trauma could be brought to the surface and treated. Shapiro eventually developed EMDR therapy as a quick and effective treatment.

The Treatment

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing evolved to the point where it became a regular therapy for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. There are now therapists who specialize specifically in EMDR treatments. Those undergoing EMDR therapy will generally do sessions one-on-one with their therapist through an eight-step process, as outlined by The EMDR Institute:

  1. History
  2. Preparation
  3. Assessment
  4. Desensitization
  5. Installation
  6. Body Scan
  7. Closure
  8. Reevaluation

Seen as a list, EMDR therapy can sound a bit daunting, but by going through each step, we can see that though it is intense, it is an extremely positive experience in the end.

  1. History: A therapist will talk with a patient about his medical and psychological history. The patient will also talk about current life events and what stresses are involved in those. This is basically a chat with the therapist to understand specifically what needs to be targeted during the EMDR treatment.
  2. Preparation: This step focuses on current stress levels and whether the patient is ready to undergo EMDR treatment. If the therapist decides the patient is too stressed for the treatment, stress reduction techniques will be discussed and applied. While these techniques are meant to help guide the patient through the EMDR process, the goal of EMDR is to relieve the necessity for these techniques completely.
  3. Assessment: Here the therapist assesses the emotional impact of the targeted trauma. As the specific trauma is targeted, the patient is asked to create a visual image to connect with the trauma. The image is asked to be as vivid as possible, and it will possibly create negative feelings about the self. The goal here is to target these negative emotions, then target positive emotions patients would prefer to associate with the emotional fallout of the trauma. The intensity of both the positive and negative emotions is then rated on a scale of 1 to 7.
  4. Desensitization: During this step, the therapist instigates the traumatic image in the patient’s mind usually for a duration of 15-30 seconds. The therapist will use multiple techniques while the patient is experiencing the trauma, including inducing lateral eyes movement through external stimuli. This will include auditory tones, tapping on the knees, or pulsing lights. These sessions go on until the patient can hold the image without feelings of distress.
  5. Installation: Now that the patient is desensitized to the traumatic image, positive reinforcement can be built. The desired positive emotions built during the assessment period are brought up. The patient is asked to associate the positive emotions with the traumatic image, while still using the external stimuli of the previous step. These sessions continue until the therapist is confident the positive emotions are fully identified with the event of trauma.
  6. Body scan: While the previous steps were focused on the mind, it is important to remember that the mind and body are not separate. During the body scan, the patient is asked once again to instigate the traumatic image. Now, the patient scans his body looking for points that are holding stress or tension. Using the external stimuli of the previous steps, the lingering stress in the body is relaxed. Again, these sessions continue until the therapist is convinced the trauma has been transformed from negative to positive in both body and mind.
  7. Closure: After the sessions, the patient is asked to keep a journal for the next week. Each time a negative emotion is triggered due to the trauma, the patient is asked to record it and reminded to use the calming techniques learned during the preparation. There are usually lingering negative feelings. The journaling process helps bring those feelings to a close and identify any lingering problems that may need to be reassessed.
  8. Reevaluation: The therapist and patient sit down and talk about the results of the entire process, and pinpoint lingering problems. The first EMDR session is bound to get results but not completely heal the trauma of the patient. Here, what further work needs to be done is evaluated in order to bring the patient to a calm and healthy state of mind.

It is important to remember that PTSD is a complicated mental disorder. This is just an outline of the first session, and additional sessions will likely be necessary for a patient to recover from past trauma. However, as treatment goes on, many patients have reported healthy personal and behavioral changes. Emotional stress decreases, and the patients often go on to live stronger, more fulfilling lives after EMDR treatment.

Clinical Findings

The EMDR Humanity Assistance Programs states that research on EMDR therapy is still ongoing. However, EMDR has been approved as an effective treatment by many psychiatric associations, including the American Psychiatric Association and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. Since 1989, over 20,000 therapists have been trained in EMDR, and the number is rising.

Studies have shown no noticeable negative side effects from EMDR treatment. While some criticize these findings because of the small amount of studies conducted, researchers in EMDR have consistently found it to be a reliable and effective treatment for PTSD.

As studies into EMDR have continued, researchers have found the treatment can be used for more than just PTSD. EMDR is also effective for treating:

  • Eating disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Addiction
  • Anxiety

Studies and clinical trials are diving ever deeper into the positive effects of EDMR, with most showing a 70-90 percent recovery rate in patients. It is quickly becoming recognized as one of the primary treatments for PTSD.

Reaching Out

Those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder often find it hard to reach out for help. The anxiety and depression involved can often push family and friends away, and many find they have lost their support system. Society itself tends to treat mental illness as something you just have to get over or remain quiet about, but this is emphatically not true. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy is absolutely an available option for anyone suffering from mental or emotional distress.

If you’d like more information on EMDR, or if you need help finding a qualified EMDR therapist, please call Orlando Recovery Center. There are staff members on hand to answer all your questions. Call now.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.