What is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)?
When we have a negative experience, our brain makes special note of it. This is so the brain can recall the memory quickly to avoid winding up in a similar situation. However, this may cause the experience to get “stuck” in our short-term memory. It creates ongoing and unwanted thoughts, feelings, and behaviors stemming from the triggering event, even if it happened years in the past. EMDR resolves this by helping the memory become "unstuck" so the brain can fully process it into the long-term memory.
How does it work?
Experiences are converted from short-term memories into long-term memories during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. If you’ve ever noticed a sleeping person’s eyes moving, they were in this stage. During an EMDR session, a trained clinician simulates REM by guiding participants’ eye movements. This is done while a targeted negative experience is recalled, which helps processes it into the long-term memory. Participants remain awake during the entire process and are fully in control.
How will I feel after a session of EMDR?
EMDR requires digging deep into memories, as well as the feelings attached to them. This may leave participants temporarily fatigued. However, many people report being energized by the insights and relief they gain as they progress.
What happens during EMDR?
The first step is to meet with a clinician who's been trained in EMDR, and they'll assess if you’re a candidate. If you don't quite meet criteria just yet, your clinician will let you know what needs to happen before it's okay to begin.
In the next session, you’ll discuss in-depth what you want to work on and the outcome you're looking to achieve. Your clinician will develop a customized treatment plan based on this.
The following sessions are the reprocessing stage of EMDR. This is where your clinician guides your eye movements while you recall a specific experience. The number of sessions you'll need in this stage will vary based on how your brain responds to EMDR.
Once you’ve successfully reprocessed the negative experience, you'll go over the next steps with your clinician. You may decide to move to standard talk therapy or conclude services if you’ve met your therapeutic goals. It's also not uncommon for participants to continue with EMDR and focus on a different memory.