Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is one of the most effective trauma treatments available. There is a great deal of research that validates the approach and it is being more widely used by therapists on many different conditions. Erin Staniszeski, LCSW is a certified EMDR therapist and EMDRIA approved consultant who has many years of experience using EMDR to treat a multitude of trauma types. She is an expert at utilizing the technique to promote her clients’ healing, and she was asked to answer several common questions about EMDR. See her responses to these questions below:
1. Is EMDR only useful for treating trauma? What other types of problems can be addressed?
EMDR is used to treat many things besides trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is also effective for helping resolve anxiety, phobias, panic disorders, depression, grief, addiction, chronic pain, and sleep disturbances. It can allow you to change those deeply rooted negative beliefs, often long held, about ourselves (such as “I’m not good enough”) that frequently inform how we feel and behave in certain situations or relationships. An experienced EMDR therapist can help you identify the best ways to utilize the benefits of EMDR to meet your specific needs.
2. How long will it take for me to notice improvement?
This is different for everybody. When we are working on a single incident trauma (such as a car accident), clients often notice significant improvement within 1-3 sessions. When we are working on childhood trauma, or negative core beliefs, this tends to take longer because there are more events/experiences to process. When we are working on this type of trauma, change is often gradual. You will eventually start to notice that you’re feeling more confident or maybe you’re not as consumed with worry or maybe you aren’t fighting with your partner as much.
3. Will EMDR help me recover lost memories associated with my trauma?
Maybe. When you experience a traumatic event, your memories are stored as sensory fragments. This means that the memories are not stored like a story, but rather by how our five senses were experiencing the trauma as it occurred. You may have difficulty remembering in what order things happened – or there may be pieces of the event that you cannot remember at all. You can think of these fragmented memories as puzzle pieces. EMDR simultaneously accesses the right and left hemispheres of the brain, which helps put the puzzle together so it can be stored in your brain like a story. The right and left sides of your brain work together so you can tell the story of your trauma without experiencing intense, debilitating emotions. Sometimes this process of putting the puzzle together can bring back lost memories. Sometimes the story can be told without the lost memories.
4. Can EMDR be used with children and adolescents?
Yes, EMDR is used with children, adolescents, and adults. You can even use it with babies and toddlers! We often modify certain parts of the EMDR protocol to help make it easier for younger clients to participate. This could involve having a child draw a picture of their problem, or maybe even playing out the trauma by using play/toys during EMDR. When we make the appropriate modifications for the individual child or adolescent, EMDR can be a tremendously efficient and effective tool to resolve many types of challenges.
5. Can EMDR be done virtually? How does this work?
Yes, EMDR can be done virtually. Although you might think it would be difficult, I have found various ways to make the technique work in virtual situations. Bilateral stimulation is a key part of EMDR and involves creating activation in the left and right hemispheres of the brain. I have my clients either download a free app with audio bilateral stimulation (you will hear alternating clicking sounds on a pair of headphones) or I have them do self-tapping (using your hands to alternate tapping on the each of your legs or arms). Eye movements can also be used by having the place two objects outside of the scope of their computer and then looking back and forth between the two while the therapist can monitor the eye movements. Even though we aren’t able to be in the same room, the process still works as if we were.
I hope these answers were helpful as you are learning about EMDR. I encourage you to visit our website and blog to learn more about EMDR and how it might be helpful for you. If you would like to speak with me or another therapist about this technique and whether it is a fit for your situation, you may schedule a free consultation through our website or by phone, (720) 675-7123.