What is EMDR and What Does it Treat?

Emotionally distressing events can sometimes be stored maladaptively in the memory of our nervous system so as to produce disturbing symptoms long after they would have ordinarily healed. EMDR addresses negative thoughts, beliefs, painful emotions and body sensations attached to these events, so that a healthy and natural resoultion occurs that frees the individual from being triggered to the memories of the past and associated or similar life experiences.

EMDR has been well-researched and has been approved by the American Psychological Association as an effective treatment for PTSD. It also has possible applications in any situation where a past event is still impacting an individual’s emotional and behavioral functioning in an undesirable, reactive way.

What is EMDR and what is it used to treat?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a modern and widely accepted psychotherapy approach, accelerates the treatment of a wide range of symptoms, difficulties, and self-esteem issues related both to past traumatic events and present life conditions.  EMDR has been empirically tested with individuals presenting with a broad range of concerns including loss of a love a loved one, rape, sexual molestation, physical and emotional abuse, and exposure to combat and natural disaster.

EMDR has also been used extensively in the the treatment of non-traumatized individuals who are experiencing problems with anxiety, low mood, work and relationship difficulties.  Controlled studies of combat, rape, molestation, accident, catastrophic loss and natural disaster indicate that EMDR is capable of a rapid reprocessing of traumatic memories, including cognitive restructuring and a significant reduction of client symptoms such as emotional distress, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares.

Substantial research supports application of EMDR to trauma-related disorders. The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), the Department of Veteran Affairs and DOD, The American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association all have listed EMDR as efficacious in the treatment of PTSD.  See: http://www.emdr.com/general-information/efficacy.html

How about in plain language?

When we have bad or negative events in our live like bullying, abuse, divorce, accidents, losses and death of a loved one, the brain creates files that contain all the feelings, thoughts and body sensations associated with the event. When events aren’t overwhelming, the brain IS able to work on these files BEFORE storing them as memories. The bad stuff is sorted out and let go, and the good stuff is kept as a learning experience. However, IF the brain is overloaded from an extremely traumatic event, the brain can’t do the work of sorting things out.  As a result, the files become messy and are disorganized in the brain.  When life events, known as triggers creep upon us, whether it be a classmate making fun of us, being ignored, or not getting what we asked for, negative feelings/thoughts/sensations come to surface, just like when we experienced the event.

What EMDR allows is organize all the files of the brain and piece is back together.  The result is less anger, sadness or shamefulness.  This allows us to be healthier and not do something that we may regret later. EMDR is a valuable tool for helping individuals reorganize the files of the brain and make healthy, future decisions.

Ryan Long, MSW, LICSW



verified by Psychology Today

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