EMDR, which is short for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, is one of the premier therapies used to treat trauma. In short, EMDR therapy helps individuals reprocess traumatic events in a safe, secure manner so that they can recover from the impacts they have experienced. It is a therapy that is most often conducted in a private setting between a therapist and a client. The therapist may utilize sounds, lights, or tapping to conduct EMDR, as the goal is to have something the eye can focus on while trying to recall trauma or related issues. For example, a therapist may ask the client to follow their finger as they work to bring to life the details of a traumatic event. When the therapist’s finger stops, they speak with the individual to discuss where their thoughts took them and pull at those threads to begin the healing process.
What Does EMDR Treat?
EMDR has traditionally been used to address the effects of trauma on individuals. There is no doubt that EMDR is beneficial for those who have unresolved trauma, however this type of therapy has also proven to help treat symptoms related to other mental health conditions.
For example, consider posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. It is a common misconception that PTSD is its own type of mental health condition, however it is an anxiety disorder. When people refer to “anxiety”, it is often a generalized view of what it feels like to be anxious, which is someone everyone can relate to. However, there are several different kinds of anxiety disorders, including PTSD. Others include the following:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Social phobia
When utilized appropriately, EMDR can treat symptoms associated with all types of anxiety disorders, not just PTSD. That is because EMDR is effective in:
- Reducing quick, irrational behaviors
- Addressing issues that continue to cause fear or uncertainty
- Replacing negative thoughts and beliefs with positive ones
- Desensitizing a person to the thing or things that trigger their anxiety
It is important to note that EMDR is also showing promise in treating depression, which is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. For these conditions, EMDR is extremely beneficial.
Benefits of EMDR Therapy
EMDR therapy can improve the lives of those who utilize it in their therapy. The greatest benefit of all is that EMDR therapy helps to improve the lives of people who were once being negatively affected by their mental state. When a person is mentally healthy, all other areas of their lives can benefit, too. Things such as exercising, relaxing, engaging in activities, and feeling comfortable in their environment allow people to start thriving again, rather than being suppressed by the effects of their trauma and/or mental illness. EMDR can clear the mental wreckage that has prevented individuals from growing and being happy. Additional benefits of EMDR therapy can include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Encourages communication — It is more common than not that people who have gone through trauma and/or have a mental illness tend to keep their experiences close to the chest. This is especially true for those who grapple with trauma, as reliving the event or events that traumatized them can be frightening. EMDR encourages individuals to communicate their experiences step-by-step with a therapist. It challenges individuals to verbalize their physical responses, thoughts, and memories. When these things can be communicated, it opens up opportunities for true healing.
- Reduces anxiety – Everyone can understand what it is like to be anxious about something. For those who struggle with anxiety surrounding their PTSD, their OCD, or any other mental illness, it can be easy to get caught up in anxious thinking and behaving. Anxiety can make the most non-threatening things seem deadly, which is why EMDR is so helpful in reducing anxiety. EMDR does this by helping identify and label specific things that are triggering anxiety, allowing patients to talk through them, become desensitized to them, and learn how to cope going forward.
- Restructures traumatic events – EMDR is the top treatment for people with PTSD or who have gone through something traumatic. That is because it gets both sides of the brain talking again, allowing for improved cognition. As traumatic events are broken down with a therapist during EMDR sessions, individuals are able to take an aerial view of the incident or incidents and reshape what occurred. This gives individuals control over the after-effects of the situation, which can help reduce all symptoms related to PTSD.
- Promotes rationale not reaction — EMDR treats several different conditions, most of which have an element of panic or anxiety tied to them. Carefully working through traumatic events and stress responses gives individuals the perspective needed to resist reacting and initiate rationale instead. For example, a soldier with PTSD goes into survival mode upon hearing loud sounds (e.g. fireworks, a truck backfiring). Rather than allowing anxiety and survival instincts to kick in, EMDR can help desensitize them to loud, unexpected sounds. This gives them the power to utilize their rationale rather than react.
- Offers quick results — EMDR has proven to work quickly in those who include it in their therapy. This is a huge benefit for those who are struggling with the effects of PTSD and other types of anxiety, as living day-to-day without relief can be crippling and demoralizing.
As with any other type of therapy, the benefits that a person will reap as a result of their participation in EMDR will be reflective of the effort they put into it. EMDR can be challenging to get through for some sessions, as sensitive topics are dug up. However, continuing the work allows for individuals to work through their trauma in a faster, less painful manner.
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