Among different therapies used for treating trauma, EMDR is a strange entry that has recently risen in popularity because of how simple yet effective it is.
Even celebrities like Mel B spoke of its benefits. Previously, she had been battling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and addictions for the past six months. In her recent interview regarding her EMDR therapy, she reported: "It's a process I have found genuinely transformative."
Evan Rachel Wood also shared her experience with EMDR. She said, "It's a kind of trauma therapy, and I must say, is absolutely fantastic."
Jameela Jamil said in her recent Instagram post about EMDR that "It saved my life."
Not only celebrities but various mental health organizations have also deemed EMDR therapy as a practical approach to deal with trauma. World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Psychic Association approve of this as one of the most effective techniques for dealing with trauma.
So, what exactly is EMDR Therapy, how does it work, and why is it so effective?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy
EMDR is a type of psychotherapy that is used for relieving psychological stress. This approach towards treating PTSD is relatively new and was discovered back in 1987.
Because of how effective it proved, it has been used as one of the primary therapies for treating trauma ever since. Primarily used for treating Post-traumatic stress disorder, it has also shown to benefit in other areas too, such as depression and anxiety.
It helps people recover from distress as a result of some disturbing life experiences. The use of EMDR can help you experience the benefits of psychotherapy that may take years to make a difference.
How does it work?
The gist of EMDR lies in the victim reprocessing the traumatic information with the help of eye movements until it is no longer mentally destructive to their lives. EMDR usually consists of 8 therapy sessions, but it can be prolonged to even 12. It follows the following step-by-step phases:
- First of all, you identify the belief you hold about yourself and think about the distressing memory that is causing you pain, such as a previous tragic incident or trauma.
- You think of the negative belief you hold with that memory and feel of an alternative positive belief you would like to formulate with yourself. Such as previously believing that you are a worthless person and replacing it with thinking that you are a worthwhile and valuable person.
- You discuss these feelings and thoughts with your therapist, and she/he helps you understand your emotions and feelings.
- You also identify all the emotions and bodily sensations that go along with the traumatic memory. Similarly, you think of the sensations you would like to replace those negative emotions with.
- You are then asked to bring this old traumatic memory into working memory. The therapist then asks you to focus your eyes on her rapidly moving fingers or any other object such as dim light rods that you can focus on. You have to track your therapist's fingers or object of focus as best as you can.
- Keeping the traumatic memory active in mind, you will have to focus on the object of attention for a span of some time. You will repeat such sessions with your therapist eight times or more, depending on your condition.
When you do this continually with the help of your therapist, you will see that the memory or image you had in your mind about the traumatic event, is slowly starting to lose its emotional pull. You will feel less anxious and find it easier to feel better about that event.
How does it feel?
People report feeling slight light-headedness and crawling sensations on their skin. You will feel a bit odd physically; your chest might tighten up too. But you don't have to worry about anything as it will pass.
As for mentally, you will experience more vivid thoughts for some time. Thinking about the past traumatic event may make you a bit angry or sad, and you might cry. After this, you will start to feel hollow as people do after breakups. Though it is not sure that all of these things will happen during one session, you can think of them as a range of possibilities.
And finally, after all the intense emotions, you will observe that you feel better. It might take up to more than one session, but in the end, you will see that it works.
Why does it work so well?
We know for sure that EMDR helps with trauma. But as to why it works? It is still unknown.
Even Robbie Dunton, the administrative director of EMDR Institute, said openly, "I'll be the first to admit that we don't know how it works. It just does."
She said that patients came in with fearing traumas. After the therapy, the majority of them felt relaxed, and this happened within a shorter period as compared to other therapy approaches. As to the exact operations that went inside the brain, no one knows about it.
There are many theories, but none of them are concrete in defining the exact working of EMDR therapy. One popular opinion is that the rapid eye movements mimic the movements of our eyes during rem-sleep. This is the time when our day events are processed during sleep. It is thought to be an advanced stage of rem-sleep.
Should You Get EMDR Therapy?
If you suffer from trauma, getting EMDR therapy might turn out to be a relatively quick and beneficial approach. Not only does it help with PTSD, but the use of this therapy also shows improvement in anxiety and depression.
Statistics showed that 84-90% of single trauma victims no longer reported having trauma. With people suffering from multiple traumas, 77% of participants were no longer diagnosed with PTSD after they went through EMDR therapy sessions.
Brie Larson and Whitney Cummings supported Rachel Wood's appraisal of EMDR on her Instagram. Rachel said:
"For people struggling with their past traumas and have the means to do so (which everyone should and it pisses me off that mental health is a luxury) I highly recommend this intense but very effective treatment, been through a lot, purged a lot, but my eyes are clear and hopeful."