One of the hardest questions to answer when seeking out psychotherapy is “what type of therapy is right for me?” There are so many evidence-based modalities to choose from, and it can quickly become overwhelming to decide which one you should seek out. One approach that can be incredibly beneficial – while also being very different from most talk therapy approaches – is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
EMDR has been designed specifically to address trauma, and in some cases has been shown to effectively treat trauma where more traditional talk therapy has been insufficient or ineffective (Shapiro & Forrest, 2016). Traumatic experiences can sometimes feel like they just become “stuck” in us and in our memories, leading to incredibly distressing symptoms such as flashbacks, phobias, and nightmares. These memories can often interfere with our ability to function in our daily life, and do not always simply go away over time. Additionally, because of how distressing these memories can feel – sometimes even years after the fact – it can be difficult to process and talk through them in sessions with a therapist. This is where EMDR comes in.
EMDR uses a different approach than typical talk therapy to allow you to channel your brain’s intrinsic methods for processing and storing memories. Central to EMDR therapy is the concept of bilateral stimulation, which may replicate the brain’s processing mechanisms during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (Shapiro, 2017). During an EMDR session, the therapist facilitates bilateral stimulation by asking you to focus on distressing memories while simultaneously engaging in rhythmic side-to-side eye movements, auditory tones, or tactile sensations. This movement can help unlock the traumatic memory’s emotional charge and enables the brain to reprocess the experience in a healthier way.
Over time and through repeated sessions, the intensity of negative emotions associated with the traumatic memory gradually diminishes. The therapist and patient work together to identify and reframe negative beliefs or self-perceptions that have stemmed from the trauma. Positive cognitions are then integrated, leading to a transformative shift in the patient’s perception of themselves and their past experiences.
Research has consistently shown that EMDR is as effective as traditional forms of psychotherapy, and in some cases, it has yielded more rapid and enduring results (Maxfield, 2019; Shapiro, 2017; Shapiro & Forrest, 2016). There is also growing evidence that EMDR is useful for other presenting concerns, such as depression (Guagar, 2016). Through delving into the root cause of these symptoms, unresolved trauma, EMDR can provide a comprehensive and holistic healing experience.
The final potential strength of EMDR that I want to mention is its ability to help with a time in our lives that can be incredibly challenging, and yet does not get talked about enough: the perinatal period. While the research into EMDR and its benefits for pregnant and postpartum individuals is still newer, there are data that show it can be a remarkably effective modality (De Brujin et al., 2020; Baas et al., 2017; Okawara & Paulsen, 2018).
There are many evidence-based practices that may be a good fit for you, and EMDR may be the exact approach that you are looking for. Wildflower clinicians use a range of evidence-based approaches to treat mental health challenges. If you are interested in getting started, and/or want to learn more about which therapeutic modality may be a good fit for you, please reach out to our intake team. We will be glad to speak with you!
Baas, M. A., Stramrood, C. A., Dijksman, L. M., de Jongh, A., & van Pampus, M G. (2017). The OptiMUM-study: EMDR therapy in pregnant women with posttraumatic stress disorder after previous childbirth and pregnant women with fear of childbirth: design of a multicenter randomized controlled trial. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 1293315.
De Bruijn, L., Stramrood, C. A., Lambregtse-van den Berg, M. P., & Rius Ottenheim, N. (2020). Treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder following childbirth. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 41(1), 5-14.
Gauhar, Y. M. (2016). The efficacy of EMDR in the treatment of depression. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 10(2), 59-69.
Maxfield, L. (2019). A clinician’s guide to the efficacy of EMDR therapy. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 13(4), 239-246.
Okawara, M., & Paulsen, S. L. (2018). Intervening in the intergenerational transmission of trauma by targeting maternal emotional dysregulation with EMDR therapy. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 12(3), 142-159.
Shapiro, F. (2017). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy: Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures (3rd ed.). Guilford Publications.
Shapiro, F., & Forrest, M. S. (2016). EMDR: The breakthrough therapy for overcoming anxiety, stress, and trauma. Hachette UK.