Why is EMDR Therapy an Effective Treatment for Trauma?
EMDR is a multistage treatment for trauma that involves the following eight steps:
1. History gathering
2. Treatment planning
3. Patient preparation
4. Systematic assessment of trauma-relevant target(s)
5. Desensitization and reprocessing
6. Installation of alternate positive cognitions
7. Body scan for continuing discomfort or trouble spots
How does this all work? The theory behind this method of therapy is that all humans process information through an “adaptive information processing system” based on stored memories and networked images, sensations, emotions, and beliefs, almost like a computer. After a bad experience, our internal computers try to “adapt” by making a connection to explanatory information or positive beliefs. Under trauma, the human “processing system” gets a “bug” in it because the extremely negative feelings involved prevent the individual from making those adaptive connections that help us work through or “get over” unpleasant experiences.
EMDR is a way of reprogramming that processing system. One of the ways this is accomplished is through a procedure called “dual stimulation.” This involves exposure to past memories or present or anticipated triggers while focusing on a set of external stimulus like tones, taps, or, more commonly, bilateral eye movements. During this phase (corresponding to numbers 3 through 6: patient preparation, systematic assessment of trauma-relevant targets, and installation of alternate positive cognitions) the patient experiences new insights and associations. Thus the negative memories are connected to more adaptive beliefs so the individual can better process his or her experience.
Since this involves exposure therapy, the therapist will have already prepared the patient to use stress reducing techniques in part 2 (treatment planning).
Part 7, the body scan for continuing discomfort of trouble spots, requires the patient to keep a diary for a week in which he or she documents any related experiences that may occur. Phase 8, the closure phase, evaluates the results of all sessions. Since the goal of EMDR is to re-associate negative memories, if he or she needed to use any of the techniques from the planning stage (Part 2) during this phase, further Eye Movement Desensitization sessions would be helpful. After EMDR treatment, patients generally report eliminated or greatly decreased emotional stress.