• Nicole Arzt

What Is EMDR and Can It Help Your Recovery?



You keep feeling this pervasive sense of fear, dread, or hopelessness. The past may seem horrific, and the future may seem bleak, and you don't quite know how to stay present.


Trauma can affect all areas of functioning. It can jeopardize your sense of self-worth and compromise your relationships. When untreated, the consequences of trauma can undoubtedly trigger a relapse.


That said, many treatments can help support trauma recovery. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is one of the best therapies to consider. Let's get into what you should know.


What Is EMDR?

EMDR is a trauma-based therapy that can help with symptoms of PTSD, major depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. At its core, EMDR reduces the intensity of distressing stimuli.


EMDR also includes education and implementation of healthy coping skills. This means that you won't be "stuck" feeling activated in your trauma. Ideally, you will have the ability to recognize and work through distressing symptoms as they arise.


Unlike traditional therapies, EMDR works at a fairly rapid pace. Some clients indicate experiencing great improvements after completing just a few sessions. In fact, some research suggests that nearly 90% of individuals with a single trauma no longer met the criteria for PTSD after just three sessions.


Phases of EMDR

EMDR entails eight different phases. The length of each phase depends on several variables, such as previous experience in therapy and the complexity of the trauma.


The first phase entails assessment. Your therapist will review your background and gather the most important details about your past. This information helps them create a working treatment plan that will structure your therapy goals.


This phase also includes an education component. Your therapist will help you understand how your trauma impacts your present. You will also receive practical coping skills for managing distress. These skills can support you if you become triggered while working through your trauma.


In the subsequent phases, your therapist will encourage you to share your story. You will describe it while also discussing any emotions or thoughts that arise. It's normal to experience negative thoughts when processing trauma, and it's important to explore these thoughts in your sessions.


During this process, your therapist will guide you through series of exercises while using bilateral stimulations. These stimulations may include tones, tapping, and eye movements.


Keep in mind that you may become overwhelmed, angry, or ashamed during this work. These responses are normal. With that in mind, your therapist will gently guide you back to the present moment in a safe and constructive way.


The following sessions often repeat a similar process. You may track triggering events that occur to you during the week. This tracking can help you and your therapist understand how particular patterns affect your routine.


Who Can Benefit From EMDR?

EMDR can be profoundly helpful for people with histories of trauma. It can also support individuals who have not benefited from traditional talk therapies.


EMDR can be its own standalone treatment. However, many clients combine EMDR with other therapies, such as group therapy, family, or couples therapy. Some clients also work with an individual therapist for certain issues, like substance use recovery, and an EMDR therapist for their trauma.


Keep in mind that only licensed mental health professionals with specific training can provide EMDR. These clinicians need appropriate certification and continuing education to provide this treatment. Just like with any therapy, the relationship is essential. It's important that you feel safe and comfortable with your therapist.


What Are The Risks of EMDR?

Any mental health treatment carries some risk. Therapy entails processing sensitive information. It can feel scary to delve into your past, and it can also feel strange to share such intimate information with a stranger.


Some of the main risks of EMDR include:

  • feeling worse before you feel better (which is common in many therapies).

  • temporarily experiencing intensified emotions of sadness, anger, shame, or fear.

  • having a short relapse in trauma-based symptoms like flashbacks, dissociation, or nightmares.

  • experiencing increased cravings for drugs or alcohol.

If these risks concern you, consult with your therapist. They are there to help guide you through this process and ensure that you feel safe and comfortable.


That said, EMDR isn't appropriate for all populations. You shouldn't engage in this therapy if you're actively struggling with drug use, psychosis, severe health issues, or suicidal ideation. These symptoms typically require needing a higher level of care for achieving stabilization.


Final Thoughts

EMDR can be a dynamic treatment option in reducing trauma-related and other mental health symptoms. It can be a powerful tool to supplement your recovery.


At The Resurface Group, we are passionate about helping individuals find greater meaning and fulfillment in their lives. We are proud to offer a variety of services designed to support your well-being. Contact us today to learn more.


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