Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a technique that therapists use to help people experiencing psychological distress find relief. Even though EMDR was developed in the late 1980s as a treatment for traumatic memories, the technique is now used to treat a variety of disorders, including:
- Chronic pain
- Substance abuse
The goal of EMDR is to lessen the amount of emotional distress you feel when you think about disturbing thoughts and memories. By helping you diminish the power of emotionally charged memories, thoughts, and traumatic events, EMDR can help you live a thriving, less distressing life. How will you know when that’s happening? The results of EMDR vary from person to person, but you may notice that you have less psychological distress, a better capacity to regulate your emotions, better sleeping habits, and increased self-esteem.
EMDR is a phased, focused approach to treating traumatic memories, mental anguish, and emotional distress. But EMDR approaches these challenges differently than traditional talk therapies like CBT, DBT, or REBT. Rather than talk therapy, EMDR uses rapid, rhythmic eye movements to help you desensitize your reactions to distress and reprocess those experiences in a helpful, productive way.
During an EMDR therapy session, the therapist may move their fingers or light back and forth in front of your face and ask you to follow their hand motions with your eyes. In some cases, they may also use a computer system viewed on a monitor. The therapist will then ask you to recall a disturbing event. As you detail the encounter, your therapist might also ask you to rate your level of distress. As you keep your eyes focused on the movement, your therapist will then gradually shift your focus to a pleasant memory and ask about your current level of distress. The process continues until the distressing memory is no longer as disturbing and you’re able to replace the negative belief associated with that memory with a positive affirmation.
You may not realize it, but the overwhelming emotions you experience when you live through traumatic and challenging events can actually interfere with the brain’s natural ability to heal itself. Luckily, the bilateral stimulation used in EMDR can help facilitate the brain’s healing process.
Dr. Romas Buivydas, a clinical psychologist at Spectrum Health Systems, explained, “EMDR identifies and addresses traumatic experiences that have overwhelmed the brain’s natural coping capacity, and, as a result, have created traumatic symptoms, such as flashbacks or anxiety, or harmful coping strategies, such as isolating behavior and self-medication with alcohol or drugs.”
The bilateral stimulation used during EMDR bypasses the part of the brain that has become stuck as a result of trauma, allowing the brain to reprocess the events more positively. In short, talking about your experiences, feelings, and thoughts while focusing your eyes on a different movement gives the brain an opportunity to heal.
Over time, EMDR can:
- Help you let go of unpleasant thoughts
- Make challenges seem easier to handle
- Make you less vulnerable to debilitating emotions
- Decrease your emotional agony and psychological distress
- Lessen the emotional strength of traumatic memories
4 Signs That EMDR Is Helping You Recover
Regardless of whether you’re dealing with PTSD, anxiety, depression, phobias, or addiction, you’ll know that EMDR is helping you recover when you begin to experience life with less emotional distress. Although that can look different for everyone, most people experiencing the benefits of less psychological distress have:
1. A healthier “thought life”
In phase 5, or the “installation” part of EMDR, your therapist will help you to replace any negative thoughts with positive self-belief statements. Your statements can be as general as “I am strong because I am a survivor” or a specific as “I am letting go of the childhood neglect I experienced because I deserve a healthy and happy life.” As you repeat these kinds of statements while following the external stimulus from left to right, the left side of your brain is able to soothe the right side of your brain, helping you reprocess the disturbing memory more positively. As you continue to strengthen your belief in these statements, your inner thoughts, both during and outside of EMDR sessions, will become healthier and more productive.
2. More emotional regulation
As your thoughts become healthier, you should also be better able to regulate your emotions. According to cognitive behavioral therapy, thoughts influence feelings which determine behavior. Instead of being extremely reactive to distressing emotions, you’ll become better at letting toxic thoughts and memories go. You might not be perfect at this at first, but as you continue EMDR treatments, you’ll develop cognitive flexibility, which will allow you to respond to challenging emotions and feelings in a new, more productive way.
3. Better sleeping habits
Having less emotional overwhelm and psychological distress can also help you sleep better. Generally, people living with phobias, depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction challenges, and chronic pain have trouble falling or staying asleep. Unfortunately, a lack of sleep can cause even more distress. But when EMDR starts to help you recover, you should begin to sleep better. All of your nightmares and anxiety may not be disappear right away, but you will gradually develop better sleeping habits, which can help:
- Improve mood
- Increase productivity
- Improve memory
- Boost the immune system
- Reduce stress
- Sharpen the brain
4. Improved self-esteem and increased autonomy
Gradually, you’ll also start to feel better about yourself. Living in a state of constant stress can make you feel weak and powerless. Learning to regulate your emotions, reframe your thoughts, and heal from trauma can remind you of how powerful and capable you actually are. Being able to talk about trauma without having to succumb to stress triggers can help you recognize your own competence. In addition to boosting your self-esteem, feeling accomplished can help motivate you to continue to make positive changes in your life.
Helping You Overcome Emotional and Psychological Distress
Life can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean that you have to live with emotional and psychological distress for the rest of your life. The compassionate experts at StoneRidge Centers can help you overcome the most tragic circumstances. Let us help you get there. Contact us today if you’re ready to live a thriving, purposeful life.
Innovative, Evidence-Based Therapies
Because mental health and addiction concerns are so often interconnected, we utilize research-based approaches with evidence-based outcomes that promote overall healing and recovery.