EMDR For PTSD and Other Mental Health Issues

EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, is an established treatment for PTSD and other mental health issues like depression. It is used worldwide by therapists who specialize in the treatment. It has a proven track record, including dozens of clinical trials and research studies. It is also listed as an effective therapy by the World Health Organization and by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The underlying theory behind EMDR is that trauma isn’t properly processed in the brain when it happens. This is why we often have nightmares, flashbacks and other symptoms that remind us of the traumatic event long after it happened. EMDR aims to “reprocess” these disturbing memories so you can move on from them.

During a session, your therapist will guide you through a series of bilateral (side-to-side) eye movements as you recall traumatic or triggering experiences in small segments until they no longer cause distress. While EMDR was originally developed to treat PTSD, it can help relieve the symptoms of other mental health concerns, especially those that are intertwined with trauma, like depression or anxiety. It tends to be faster and less stressful than other forms of therapy.

Some experts believe that EMDR reactivates parts of the brain that were shut down as a coping mechanism during the traumatic event, which allows the memory to be seen in a new light. Others think that the eye movements are similar to what occurs during REM sleep, and allow the brain to process experiences in a more adaptive way.

As part of the treatment, your therapist will ask you to identify what is causing distress during and after each segment of the traumatic experience. This information can help your therapist determine how to proceed with the reprocessing. Your therapist may use other sensory stimulation to activate the brain’s natural processing systems, such as a sound device that plays tones on both sides of your body, tapping on your arms or thighs, a moving light that you follow with your eyes or a body scan where you focus on sensations in different parts of the body.

After each set of reprocessing, your therapist will check that the memory is no longer causing distress and may have you focus on positive beliefs. During this phase, you can repeat a mantra to yourself or something positive that you want to believe about the negative memory.

In addition to its effectiveness in treating PTSD, EMDR has been shown to reduce the symptoms of other conditions, such as phantom limb pain and depression. EMDR also has been successful in reducing job stress, which can contribute to PTSD. However, EMDR should be paired with other therapies that target the underlying conditions that contribute to PTSD and other mental health disorders. The combination of treatments can increase the chances of a complete recovery. For instance, a recent study found that combining EMDR with psychodynamic psychotherapy resulted in greater improvements in PTSD symptoms than either treatment alone.