What is EMDR therapy, and how can it be used to treat mental illness?
I’ve always been fascinated by the multiple therapies we can use to combat mental health issues. I’m aware of the more commonly used therapies such as CBT, DBT, and ACT. But I’ve always been curious about alternatives such as EFT and EMDR.
Laura Smith author of Laura’s Books and Blog’s kindly offered to discuss EMDR therapy during July’s guest blog. EMDR is lesser known than its counterparts. But it’s one that I’ve had a distinct interest in since hearing about it on a podcast.
About EMDR Therapy.
Have you ever seen the 2004 movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? The premise of this movie revolves around a company that can erase unwanted memories. We all have terrible experiences that we’d like to forget. Whether it’s as extreme as combat or as commonplace as an embarrassing moment from high school. There’s currently no machine that will erase our memories for us. However, there is a newer form of therapy that can change the way that you remember these moments. The treatment is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR.
This form of therapy is only twenty-five years old but has a high success rate in treating PTSD patients. It’s also proved effective at treating the symptoms of depression and anxiety. It takes your most traumatic memories and desensitizes you from the mental and physical effects. The memory is still there. It just doesn’t bother you anymore. After all, we need to remember these terrible experiences so that we can learn from them and mature. We just don’t want them to keep us up at night or hold us back from trying new things.
It takes several sessions and numerous repetitions before it sticks, but you start to feel better immediately after each session.
One of the first exercises that you learn is the eye and hand movement technique. Your therapist may ask you to follow their moving hand or to tap as you focus on a traumatic memory. Think of it as that iconic image of a hypnotist waving a watch back and forth to put their patient into a trance. Instead, the movements are said to help your brain process the traumatic memories. It extracts the thoughts that are keeping the feelings raw like an open wound and allows them to heal.
In the next session, my therapist asked me questions and wrote them down on a form that she would refer to throughout the treatment. Most therapy sessions only last an hour, which isn’t enough time to get through the entire EMDR process. Even patients like me who haven’t been through extreme trauma need several sessions to get through the paperwork.
Most of the questions ask you to describe yourself and your negative feelings when you’re in a depressed or anxious state. The goal is to target the memories related to these feelings so that these symptoms disappear.
Next comes visualization exercises. First, I was asked to envision a box in which to store my negative thoughts. This box is to be used not just in our sessions but any time I’m feeling overwhelmed. Just the act of locking these ideas away can help to calm me down and put things in perspective. It gives you control over your emotions that you wouldn’t have otherwise, to turn ideas into tangible objects that can be moved and locked away, out of sight. That doesn’t mean that they can’t come back, but it does help you to get through those tense moments where feelings and memories overwhelm you.
In the next session, your therapist will ask you to think of your earliest memory when you began to feel the feelings that you named during the question and answer session. After I thought of my memory, I was asked to close my eyes and think about it for a minute or two. Then, in a few sentences, I explained what images, thoughts, or feelings came to mind.
“I had to name on a scale of zero to ten how disturbing the memory was. The goal was to get down to zero. This requires the repetitive task of visualizing and then explaining what comes to mind over and over.”
Your therapist may ask you to tap on your arms or legs or follow their hand with your eyes. My therapist uses a pulse tool. The pulse tool looks like two computer mice that you hold in each hand. They’re attached to the box which creates different levels of rhythmic vibrations in my hands while thinking of these memories. It’s not painful or numbing; it’s just a firm sensation that helps with the healing and keeps you from having to multitask with hand or eye movements as you process your memories.
For each memory, you really explore every facet of what you remember, from sights to feelings to details you probably haven’t thought of in years. After each observation you make, your therapist will tell you to go on that feeling and then close your eyes for another minute and keep deep diving. Your mind may wander, or you may feel like you have nothing else to say or think about this memory. That’s a good sign, and that’s usually when your therapist will ask you to check in on the memory and rate your level of distress.
Gradually, you begin to dissociate those negative feelings with the memory. The visual still stays intact, but you don’t feel sad or stressed when you remember it. It loses all significance as one of the roots of your negative thoughts. Once you get the memory’s level of distress down to 0, it’s time to move on to the next memory associated with your negative thoughts. The more traumatic the memory, the more time you will need to spend in this visualization session. You may even need multiple therapy sessions for one memory. The goal is to keep visualizing until it no longer affects you.
The average patient requires six to eight sessions in order to get through the EMDR process. It requires visiting multiple memories and focusing on them until you get to a 0 on the level of distress that they cause you. To me, this is better than any kind of memory erasure. I don’t want to forget chunks of my life or the lessons that they taught me. I just don’t want to be haunted by them or have them affect my present and future choices.
EMDR has helped me immensely in being able to live with past traumas and not let them define my present state of mind. As someone who dwells on the past, both good and bad, it’s a relief to no longer be haunted by the bad memories or to wish that I had done things differently. Instead, they are mere learning tools with no emotional weight. It doesn’t require a drug or a science fiction-like procedure to accomplish. It just takes you, your therapist, and time.
This sounds really interesting. I’ve been through therapy and tried some of the other options that you listed in the beginning, but EMDR is all new to me. That being said, the theory behind it here actually makes sense. I am going to dig into this a little more and see if maybe it’s a concept that I should bring up with my therapist.
I needd to tһank you for this very good read!!
I absolutely enjmօyed evｅry bit of іt. I have you bookmarked to look at new
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I’ve yet to try it too but I really want to!
Thank you so much for stopping in and reading. x
My counseling agency offered this to my ex husband when we were there. My own counselor had used it and it was wonderful for her. But because my husband was not being cooperative with the process he ended it after the second session. I have never done it myself but everybody that has said it was a wonderful tool.
Great information! My adopted son’s therapist was licensed in EMDR, but our son’s trauma is severe. He wouldn’t participate, actually work through the traumatic events, feelings, memories, etc. It’s a great therapy for those ready to work through the trauma.
Thank you so much for stopping by. If you give it a go, I would love to hear you thoughts on it!
This is a very interesting treatment option that I’d never heard of until now. I struggle with depression and anxiety (double depression – 2 different forms of depression and generalized anxiety disorder with avoidance behaviors) and this sounds like something I need to look further into. Thank you for sharing this.
This is really interesting. I would love to learn more about it. I practice tapping therapy when I’m feeling anxious but nothing as intense as this.
Interesting Laura. This therapy seems to genuinely move trauma along.
I really need to find someone in my area that does it for a decent price. It sounds so wonderful and welcome change from CBT.
I’ve never heard of this before but can definitely see the benefits. Especially for illnesses such as PTSD and I’m wondering if it would be good for domestic abuse survivors too.
A friend of mine has had this and it was hugely successful for her.
The benefits seems huge and I think anything that can help people is much needed x
Thank you very much. EMDR is something I am very interested in and can’t wait to try.
I’ve never heard of this treatment before and I am really happy that you did a post on it because mental health is really something that I care about personally.
Thank you xx
Of course! Sending you so many hugs!
Thank you so, so much. This means so much to me, especially this morning when I’m struggling to get going a bit.
Just know that I’m here for you. We may be denied a lot in this life, but as warriors, we can support each other through these times. Sending you so many hugs!
Yeah, I’m also feeling that I’m gonna want a therapist that has experience with Autistic patients and understanding of stimming for self regulation as a general thing.
Thank you so much Spence. Laura did an excellent job on this one!
I would mention it to them and see what they think. I’m looking for an EMDR therapist that is affordable near me, but I want to be sure to run it by my therapist first. It’s something I haven’t done before and think it might be able to help, at least with a portion of my trauma.
Thank you so much. Sadly everything comes with a cost, and it just so happens the therapy I think might help costs a mint.
It’s horrible that treatment for things that are so beneficial often cost a lot ???? Of course! I loved your article ❤
I just noticed the other day that they have started offering EMDR at the local counselling centre. I’m debating whether it might be helpful for me – it is at the least a therapy that I haven’t tried yet!
I feel anxious though reading about the process. I already boxed a lot of the memories – a sensei taught me but I tend to become fairly dissociative with distress and traumatic memories anyway.
I’ve apparently now been assigned a CPN at the neighbouring mental health trust so maybe in the meeting I’m apparently having with them and a dr I’ll suggest it, unless they have better plans.
A really thorough description of the process that can be really effective. It certainly isn’t for everyone (like any approach), but it is an amazing addition to the trauma-informed therapeutic movement.
Thank you for reading. I hope it was helpful 😀
Thank you for stopping by.
Thank you so much for stopping by, I’m glad you found it useful. I plan on taking it to my next CBT therapy session and seeing what she thinks.
Thank you for stopping by, I’m so glad you found it helpful. I’m currently looking into it as well!
Thank you so much for stopping by and reading. I’m so glad you found it useful. I struggled to understand it too until I read on in Laura’s post and it clicked. Still would like to know the science behind it.
I hope it does! Thank you for stopping by.
Thank you 😀
Thank you so much for stopping by and reading. I’ve been looking into EMDR therapy for myself recently as a way to finally make progress on my recovery journey, but I’m having a hard time fitting the bill! Hopefully, soon I’ll have enough to fund it!
Awesome and informative read. I saw a therapist who specialized in EMDR therapy. It really amazed me how quickly and dramatically it helped certain traumatic memories I could not get past.
New and intriguing information, sounds like this could help a lot of people
This was so interesting. I’d honestly never heard of EMDR therapy, and I think this post explained the method really clearly. I liked the personal perspective too, it helped me to better understand (I think without it I might have been a bit perplexed). I’d be so interested to understand why it works – I might have to go and do some more research. Thank you for sharing this!
This was really useful to read, I’m looking into EMDR therapy at the moment because I’ve had other talking therapy which has been super helpful but I’d like to address the underlying PTSD symptoms I still have. I appreciate you sharing all this information it has been helpful 🙂
I have never heard of this and I really need this. I have been through some traumatic experiences in my life and I’ve been to therapy for them but they still haunt me. I want to try this but I’m sure there isn’t anyone in the military trained or qualified in this just yet. I’m going to bring it up to my doctor to see. Thank you for this!
This was a new one to me – thanks for sharing!
I’d never heard of this until now but it sounds amazing! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject x
I’ve never heard of this, but it sounds fascinating! I’ve seen Eternal Sunshine but it’s been ages and I don’t really remember it
Thank you very much for stopping by and reading 😀
You’re very welcome 😀 Thank you for reading 🙂
I have been considering hypnotism as well as EMDR for a while now. Just to give CBT a break.
Thank you for stopping by and reading 😀
Thank you so much for stopping by. I’m so glad it was helpful in calming your anxiety about this treatment. x
This is really interesting to know. I really want to give it or hypnotherapy a go because I honestly feel like it’s going to be the only way to get over this at this point. I’m 10 + years in now and nothing has been working long term. Thank you so much for stopping by and reading 😀
I’m the same at this point. I’m strongly considering finding a hypnotherapist or EMDR therapist near me but it could cost upwards of £300 which I don’t have to spare at the moment.
Thank you so much for stopping by 😀
Thank you so much for stopping by. Do you have a blog URL I canevisit as a thank you?
Thank you so much for reading. I’ve wanted to try EMDR since reading this due to the high success rate 😀
It is interesting to learn about EMDR therapy. It is great that this method has a high success with treating PTSD patients. I learned so much from this post. Thanks for sharing the knowledge.
Nancy ♥ exquisitely.me
This was so interesting and not something I really heard much about. I certainly have some memories that I would love to be able to not react to. Maybe I will look into it. Thanks for sharing x
I learned something from this post! Thank you for writing this.
Thank you for explaining this! I honestly had no idea it existed. My partner has PTSD so this sort of thing could help immensely – we’re considering paying for therapy anyway as the NHS hasn’t been so great so we’ll certainly look into this.
A really informative post 🙂 I think a lot of people aren’t even aware of EMDR. I had it while I was at uni for my emetophobia and while it didn’t work for me personally, I still think it can be an effective treatment for certain disorders. Studying psychology at uni I’d read plenty of research on how it was great for PTSD and trauma among other things, so I absolutely wouldn’t disregard it as an option if someone mentioned trying it. Great post as always 🙂
Thank you for stopping by! I honestly really want to try this therapy after reading this 😀
I really want to try it too but it costs about £50 a pop to even try it, something I don’t have lying around right now.
I have wanted to try it for ages now because I think it might help me with anorexia. That or hypno therapy!
Thank you so much for stopping by. Laura does a great job of explaining what EMDR is and how it works 🙂
This was really interesting to learn about. I had no idea it existed until now!
Once again by reading your blof I’ve learned something. I had no idea this type of therapy was in practice. Great post thank you for sharing.
Phillis | https://fatjackscoffee.com
Great explanation of EMDR! My therapist suggested trying EMDR therapy for me this year and the sessions are tough, but so, so helpful! I have depression/anxiety, not PTSD, but it’s still helped me with some negative memories that had developed into negative thoughts that were affecting my mental health. I wish more people knew about this therapy and that mental health professionals offered it more!
Excellent post, thank you so much for sharing!!
Emily | https://www.thatweirdgirllife.com
Thank you for talking about this! I was going to try EMDR with my therapist for PTSD, but she left. I’m starting with a new one soon and am excited to bring it up. You are the first one to actually explain EMDR and I’m thankful. I feel less anxious about it.
This is seems similar to Hypnotism but a great alternative for what ever option or combination
I had no idea that this even existed. Thanks for sharing such an informative and interesting post! Much love.
This is such an informative and interesting post. I had never heard of it before this! Thank you for sharing.
I would defo suggest looking into this. I’m currently looking into trying it through the NHS or privately (£££ considering). I’m just sick of CBT at this point.
This was really interesting, it’s a form of therapy that I’ve never heard of before. Thank you for sharing!
It’s really made me look into local places to try EMDR therapy!
You can always ask to try the EMDR again if you want, right? Now that you know a bit more about it you may feel more comfortable 🙂 I’ll be sure to pass on your lovely message to Laura. x
Thank you so much. Laura did an excellent job and I’ll be sure to pass on your wonderful comment 🙂
Thank you so much for stopping by 🙂
While I was quality controlling this article I was struck with the thought that I should really try this for my anxiety and eating disorder!
Thank you! Laura really did a great job in talking about it. It’s made me really want to go and experience it!
I’ve never heard of this before! super interesting article!
Very interesting article! I like with terrible anxiety and have tried lots of techniques at this point. Very helpful, thanks!
I never heard of this before. Thank you for sharing!
I have heard of this type of therapy, but my knowledge of it ended there. I found your post both informative and interesting. I LOVE that you are helping educate others on the different types of therapy out there, I think too ofter we have a one size fits all mind set. Great post!
I went through therapy this past year for my PTSD and turned down the EMDR therapy because I didn’t really understand it. I opted for CBT instead.
I wish I had been presented with EMDR like this! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I’m so glad it helped you. <3
This is really Interesting! I hadn’t heard of this technique before, I’m going to look into it more!
I think it’s wonderful thatthat you explore soso manymany possibilities.
I never heard of this before! I don’t like CBT therapy and had to move into the counsellors who kept shoving it down my throat to my current therapist who thinks I’m beyond CBT. I’ll look into this.
Ash | thisdreamsalive.wordpress.com