EMDR Therapy Vancouver

Specialized Treatment for Trauma

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of non-invasive, evidence-based psychotherapy, that helps people recover from the emotional and psychological aftermath of trauma.

Trauma can have lasting effects on the brain that disrupt our ability to cope with and bounce back from life’s challenges. With EMDR therapy, patients reprocess those painful memories until they no longer stand in the way of healthy functioning.

While most psychotherapies (“talk therapy”) concentrate on talking as part of the treatment process, EMDR therapy looks directly at the brain and how it processes emotions, thoughts, and behaviours from the trauma. By utilizing our natural capacity to heal from trauma, we can restore the brain’s resilience.

EMDR was founded several decades ago by a woman named Francine Shapiro. While she had some distressing thoughts during her walk in a park one day, she noticed that her gaze started rapidly shifting. The thoughts then went away, and when she revisited them, the negative emotions she felt previously were much less severe. She thought she might be onto something. After investigating further, she began researching on volunteers and doing research with trauma victims, which led to the standardized eight-phase therapy of EMDR.

EMDR is a non-invasive and evidence-based psychotherapy that works

How Does EMDR Work?

During your EMDR sessions, your therapist will direct your eye movements using a method called bilateral stimulation (i.e. stimulation of both sides of the brain) as you remember a traumatic or distressing event in small parts. While there’s ample evidence that EMDR can be highly effective, there’s still some mystery around how exactly the bilateral stimulation works.

One thing is clear: EMDR therapy helps you reprocess traumatic memories without having to discuss them at length. By repeatedly revisiting the memories without the associated negative emotions, those memories become easier and easier to tolerate, until eventually the distress disappears entirely. Your therapist will use the Subjective Units of Distress Scale (SUDS) to measure this.

The Eight Phases of EMDR

EMDR therapy is an eight-phase process. Sessions typically last between 50 and 90 minutes, with some phases requiring more than one session. While treatment length varies, most people see positive results after 8 to 12 sessions.

Phase 1:  History Taking
Your therapist goes over your history with you. Following an overview of your goals and expectations, your therapist will come up with a treatment plan. 

Phase 2:  Preparation
You will learn techniques to cope with any stressful emotions that arise during the process, such as breathing exercises or mental visualization. People with highly traumatic histories may need an extra 1-3 sessions of preparation.

Phase 3: Assessment
You and your therapist will choose specific parts of the memory or memories (“target events”) for the upcoming sessions; these include thoughts, emotions, and sensations associated with the trauma or event.

Phase 4: Desensitization
This phase uses EMDR techniques to address and resolve the emotions, sensations, memories, and insights connected to the target event. Your therapist will ask you to do eye movements (i.e. bilateral stimulation) as you access the target memory. Sometimes, other forms of bilateral stimulation are used, such as tapping or auditory stimulation.

Phase 5: Installation
The purpose of this phase is to apply and reinforce the positive beliefs about yourself and the target event, which were established in the desensitization phase. The positive beliefs must be airtight to complete this phase.

Phase 6:  Body Scan
Your therapist will ask you to revisit target events in order to identify any unsettled sensations in your body. If any remain, your therapist will concentrate on those sensations for further reprocessing. This phase concludes when you can revisit the target memory without any negative sensations.

Phase 7: Closure
Closure is used to end sessions and assist you in transitioning back to daily life. Your therapist will support you in using coping tools/ techniques to help you manage distressing emotions or memories that may come up.

Phase 8: Reevaluation
Each following session begins with revaluation; it is crucial to monitor the treatment’s success with each session. If there are multiple traumas, your therapist will work with you to identify new targets to work on.

Who Can Benefit from EMDR?

Most of the studies on EMDR therapy look at its effect on trauma. EMDR offers a good alternative to talk therapy for trauma, as many trauma survivors find it very challenging to describe their experiences in detail. Since its development in the 80’s, many therapists have been using EMDR to treat a variety of issues including:

  • Trauma & PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Panic Attacks
  • Specific Phobias
  • Self-Esteem Issues

You do not need a diagnosis of PTSD or any of the above to benefit from EMDR. If you have an experience, an event, or series of events that you’re struggling to heal from, EMDR might be a good fit. A therapist will assess your suitability for EMDR before recommending it. Although it is safe with no major side effects, EMDR therapy is not right for everyone.

Does EMDR Actually Work?

In short, yes. Several international and government health organizations verify EMDR as a legitimate form of treatment for PTSD, including the World Health Organization, the US Department of Defense for Veteran Affairs, and Israeli National Council for Mental Health. The American Psychiatric Association also considers EMDR an effective form of treatment for PTSD.

Many studies support EMDR as an effective treatment that reduces or eliminates PTSD symptoms. Some studies suggest that EMDR is faster at removing distressing symptoms than talk therapy alone.

Remote EMDR and Virtual EMDR are also available, as most therapists are able to perform bilateral stimulation effectively over video.

Are you looking for EMDR therapy? We can help! Contact us below to schedule a free consultation.

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