EMDR specialist Leigh Ann Fernandez talks with fellow MRC clinicians about what Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing is, how it works and how it is used for trauma recovery. It is one of the tools we use here at the Marriage Recovery Center for the treatment of narcissistic and emotional abuse. It has been found to be especially helpful for people who are stuck in a negative response to a past or present trauma, such as emotional abuse or something that happened earlier in their life, that is preventing them from moving forward in the recovery process.
What Is Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing?
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic approach that has gained significant recognition and acceptance over the past few decades. Developed by Francine Shapiro approximately 30 years ago, it is a specialized method designed to address various forms of trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as a wide range of other psychological and emotional issues. In this article, we will delve into the core concepts of EMDR, its effectiveness, the science behind it, and its applications.
Understanding EMDR: A Deeper Dive
The Essence of EMDR
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. Despite its long and complex name, this therapy employs eye movements and bilateral stimulation techniques in combination with established therapeutic practices. It aims to help individuals process traumatic memories more effectively and alleviate the distressing emotions and physical sensations associated with those memories. It can be particularly effective in helping people reframe their self-perception and perception of their environment, ultimately allowing them to reintegrate these memories into their lives with a sense of neutrality.
The Effectiveness of EMDR
The effectiveness of EMDR has been extensively studied and validated through research spanning approximately three decades. Initially developed to address PTSD, it has shown remarkable results in treating various other psychological issues, including depression, anxiety, anger management, and even chronic pain. Notably, it has been shown to yield impressive results in a relatively short period. In some studies, up to 90% of individuals with a single traumatic experience report significant improvement and become symptom-free after only three to five sessions.
To further underline EMDR’s credibility, it’s worth noting a study by Bessel van der Kolk and his associates that compared the effects of EMDR and Prozac (an antidepressant) on individuals with depression. The results were astonishing: those who received EMDR therapy experienced significantly better outcomes both during the treatment phase and in follow-up assessments, even a year after the study concluded. In contrast, those who solely received Prozac displayed minimal improvement and continued to experience their symptoms over time. This demonstrates the enduring effectiveness of EMDR.
EMDR vs. Hypnotherapy
One common misconception about EMDR is that it is akin to hypnotherapy, a method where individuals enter a trance-like state or lose consciousness. However, it is distinctly different from hypnotherapy. During sessions, individuals remain fully conscious and engaged in the therapeutic process. They work collaboratively with their EMDR therapist to explore and reprocess traumatic memories, making it a conscious and active form of therapy.
The Core Principles of EMDR
Identifying Target Memories
In EMDR therapy, the process begins by identifying a “target memory,” which is a specific traumatic event or experience. Alongside this, clients explore their beliefs about themselves at the time of the trauma, often centered around feelings of defectiveness, guilt, or a lack of control over their environment.
Rating Beliefs and Emotions
Clients are encouraged to rate the intensity of these negative beliefs and emotions associated with the trauma. This self-assessment provides a baseline to measure progress during the therapy.
Building a Safe Space
EMDR also allows for the creation of a safe space within the therapy, which clients can return to when the emotional intensity becomes overwhelming. This safe space provides a sense of security and control during the therapeutic process.
The core of EMDR involves bilateral stimulation, often using eye movements or tactile techniques, such as tapping. This bilateral stimulation activates both hemispheres of the brain, facilitating the processing of traumatic memories at a deeper level than traditional talk therapy.
Desensitizing and Reprocessing
As the therapy progresses, the distress associated with the traumatic memory is systematically desensitized, leading to a significant reduction in the intensity of emotions and physical sensations linked to the trauma. Simultaneously, the individual’s beliefs about themselves and their environment undergo a positive transformation, allowing them to approach their traumatic memories with greater emotional resilience.
Treating Complex Trauma
Dealing with Cumulative Trauma
Notably, it is not limited to addressing single traumatic events; it is equally effective in dealing with cumulative trauma. This approach is particularly useful for individuals who have experienced a series of traumas that share common themes, such as ongoing abuse or repeated assaults. It allows these traumas to be grouped together thematically, making it possible to address a cluster of memories that share similar negative beliefs, emotions, and physical sensations.
EMDR in the Face of Ongoing Trauma
Providing Relief Amid Ongoing Trauma
One common concern is whether EMDR can be used when trauma is still ongoing. In many cases, individuals who seek EMDR therapy are still in distressing situations, such as abusive relationships. EMDR can be adapted to help such individuals. The therapy aims to provide relief from the immediate emotional and physical distress, allowing clients to regain their emotional resilience and make informed decisions about their future.
Virtual EMDR: An Option for All
Accessible from Anywhere
The beauty of EMDR is its adaptability, allowing it to be conducted both in person and virtually. While some therapists use specialized equipment like light bars for in-person sessions, it is not essential for the core process. Virtual therapy can be just as effective by utilizing simple bilateral stimulation techniques like eye movements and tapping.
Overcoming the Virtual Barrier
Initially, some individuals might feel more comfortable with in-person sessions, but it typically takes just a session or two for clients to acclimatize to the virtual format. Once they understand the process, it becomes more familiar and less intimidating.
The Role of the Therapist
A crucial aspect of successful EMDR, whether in person or virtually, is the therapist’s role. The therapist needs to be highly attuned to the client’s responses and emotions, ensuring the therapy progresses at a pace that is comfortable and effective.
Integration into Complex Trauma Recovery
Complementing Traditional Talk Therapy
EMDR can be seamlessly integrated into complex trauma recovery, especially in cases of emotional and narcissistic abuse. While talk therapy plays a vital role in addressing these issues, it can be a powerful complement. Talk therapy enables clients to gain insight and understanding, while EMDR allows them to process the trauma on a deeper level, desensitize distressing emotions, and reframe negative beliefs.
The Promise of EMDR in Healing
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing is a highly effective and versatile therapeutic approach that holds immense promise in the realm of trauma recovery. Its well-documented success in addressing a wide range of psychological issues, including PTSD, depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, makes it a valuable addition to the therapist’s toolkit. It provides hope and healing for those grappling with the profound impact of trauma, enabling them to transform their traumatic memories into sources of strength, resilience, and personal growth.
As it continues to evolve and gain recognition, its accessibility through virtual platforms extends its reach to individuals in need of healing and support. It complements traditional talk therapy, offering a comprehensive and holistic approach to complex trauma recovery. The collaborative efforts of therapists, along with the unique advantages of EMDR, promise brighter futures for those on the path to healing and recovery.
Also read: A Pathway to Marriage Healing
About Dr. Hawkins:
The internet is inundated with hyperbole and misinformation about narcissism, leaving many people confused and hopeless. Get the facts on narcissism and emotional abuse from someone who has been researching, writing about and treating narcissism and emotional abuse for over a decade.
Dr. Hawkins is a best-selling author and clinical psychologist with over three decades of experience helping people break unhealthy patterns and build healthier relationships.
He is the founder and director of the Marriage Recovery Center and the Emotional Abuse Institute which offers education, training and counseling for people who want to break free of, and heal from, emotional abuse. Whether the perpetrator of the abuse is your spouse, partner, parent, boss, friend or family member, we offer practical advice for anyone trapped in a toxic, destructive relationship.
In addition to narcissism & emotional abuse, you’ll learn about the lesser known forms of abuse, including covert abuse, reactive abuse, spiritual abuse, secondary abuse, relationship trauma and much more.