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EMDR Therapy as an Effective Treatment for Trauma

What is EMDR?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy within a few weeks to a few months that once took years to make a difference.

It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma. When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the block is removed, healing resumes.

EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes. The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health. If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR therapy training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes.

How effective is EMDR and can it help me?

More than 30 positive controlled outcome studies have been done on EMDR therapy.

  • Some of the studies show that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute sessions.
  • Another study, funded by the HMO Kaiser Permanente, found that 100% of the single-trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims no longer were diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) after only six 50-minute sessions.
  • In another study, 77% of combat veterans were free of PTSD in 12 sessions.

There has been so much research on EMDR therapy that it is now recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organizations such as the National Health Service, National Institute of Clinical Excellence, American Psychiatric Association, and the World Health Organization.

Given the worldwide recognition as an effective treatment of trauma, you can easily see how EMDR therapy would be effective in treating the “everyday” memories that are the reason people have low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, and all the myriad problems that bring them in for therapy.

Over 100,000 clinicians throughout the world use the therapy. Millions of people have been treated successfully over the past 25 years.

EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment. Eye movements (or other bilateral stimulation) are used during one part of the session. After the clinician has determined which memory to target first, he asks the client to hold different aspects of that event or thought in mind and to use his eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision. As this happens, for reasons believed by a Harvard researcher to be connected with the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, internal associations arise and the clients begin to process the memory and disturbing feelings.

In successful EMDR therapy, the meaning of painful events is transformed on an emotional level. For instance, a rape victim shifts from feeling horror and self-disgust to holding the firm belief that, “I survived it and I am strong.” Unlike talk therapy, the insights clients gain in EMDR therapy result not so much from clinician interpretation, but from the client’s own accelerated intellectual and emotional processes. The net effect is that clients conclude EMDR therapy feeling empowered by the very experiences that once debased them. Their wounds have not just closed, they have transformed.

As a natural outcome of the EMDR therapeutic process, the clients’ thoughts, feelings and behaviour are all robust indicators of emotional health and resolution — all without speaking in detail or doing homework used in other therapies.

How Can EMDR Help Treat Addiction?

The use of EMDR in addiction treatment results in the fact that a lot of addiction is tied to a past trauma. The belief is by treating this trauma, the person suffering from addiction will have less of a compulsion towards substances.

Therapists using EMDR therapy approach a patient’s addiction from a trauma-informed perspective. This allows them to examine each case as an individual and look at the root cause and contributing factors to each person’s addiction. Because of this, EMDR is able to play a central role in addiction treatment. Many people who suffer from substance use disorders have diagnosable PTSD. This makes EMDR as a front-line therapy a logical choice that can greatly help a patient and reduce their risk of relapse.

Eating disorders and substance abuse

Studies have shown that approximately one in ten people in the UK and America are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of these individuals seek treatment for their substance abuse. Studies also suggest that 50% of individuals with eating disorders are also abusing alcohol or illicit substances at a rate of five times higher than the general population. These co-occurring disorders affect both males and females with 57% with binge eating disorder experiencing lifelong substance abuse problems. EMDR treatment works to treat both of these disorders, regardless if they are co-occurring and not by treating the underlying traumatic events associated with them.

Therapy as an Effective Treatment for Trauma

Studies have shown that EMDR is an effective treatment for the following:

  • Addiction
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Overwhelming fears
  • Childhood trauma or abuse
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Body dysmorphic disorders
  • Low self-esteem
  • Relationship problems

The National Health Service, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence, the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization, and the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs, Defence, and Health and Human Services recognize EMDR as an effective treatment for trauma.

Approximately 20 controlled studies have investigated the effects of EMDR therapy, and they have consistently found that EMDR effectively decreases or eliminates the symptoms of post-traumatic stress for the vast majority of patients. Additionally, patients often report improvement in other associated symptoms, such as anxiety or grief. Research has also shown EMDR to be an efficient and rapid treatment.

emdr trauma therapy