Prince Harry opens up to Oprah about his mental health struggles in a new docuseries, “The Me You Can’t See,” on Apple TV+. The royal credits EMDR therapy for helping him cope with the trauma from his childhood. With the current depression epidemic and the struggles that COVID-19 brought to people across the world, more and more people are seeking alternative help for mental health issues rather than reaching for another big pharma prescription.
What is EMDR Therapy?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. Through EMDR, clients can access and process traumatic memories and adverse experiences and “reprogram” them to a more adaptable memory.
After a successful treatment with EMDR, a person experiences a release in distress, reformulates negative beliefs, and reduces physiological arousal. In a clinical setting, the client will attend to emotionally disturbing material in brief, sequenced doses while focusing on an external stimulus. The external stimulus is most commonly therapist-directed lateral eye movements, but sometimes hand-tapping and audio stimulation are also used.
Through rapid eye movements (what we experience during REM sleep or our dream phases), a person can access buried down traumatic memories and enhance information processing while forging new associations between the trauma memory and more adaptive memories. The new associations are theorized to result from new learning, elimination of emotional distress, new cognitive insights, and complete information processing of the situation.
EMDR therapy uses a three-pronged protocol:
- Past events that have laid the groundwork for dysfunction are processed, forging new associative links with adaptive information
- The current circumstances that elicit distress are targeted and internal and external triggers are desensitized
- Imaginal templates of future events are incorporated to assist the client in acquiring the skills needed for adaptive functioning
In part one, the therapist will assess the client’s readiness and develop a treatment plan. The therapist and client will identify potential targets for EMDR processing. Targets include distressing memories and current situations, but often the therapist likes to look at childhood events.
The therapist teaches the client imagery and stress reduction techniques that can be used during and between sessions.
In phases three through six, the therapist and client identify a target memory. The client identifies three things: the vivid visual image related to the memory, a negative belief about self, and related emotions and body sensations.
The client will also identify a positive belief to replace it with.
After, the client will focus on the image, negative thought, and body sensation while engaging in bilateral stimulation. Bilateral stimulation is usually eye movements that happen as the therapist’s hand moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision. The client will be instructed to take notice of whatever spontaneously happens. The therapist will tell the client to let their blind go black and to notice a thought, feeling, memory, image, or sensation that comes through.
When the time comes where the client reports no more distress toward the memory, they are asked to bring to mind the preferred positive belief that was identified at the beginning of the session.
Clients will keep a log during the week to document any related material that may arise.
The next session begins with this phase and identifies all related current incidents, past events, or future events.
Benefits of EMDR Therapy
Currently, over 100,000 clinicians across the globe use EMDR therapy. Here’s why:
Over the past 25 years, millions of people have been successfully treated with EMDR therapy. There have been more than 30 positive controlled outcome studies on EMDR therapy. One study found that 77 percent of combat veterans and 100 percent of the single-trauma victims were free of post-traumatic stress disorder after 12 sessions. Some studies show that 84-90 percent of single-trauma victims no longer showed PTSD after 3 90 minute sessions!
Because of the tons of positive research that shows the effectiveness of EMDR therapy, The American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense recognize EMDR therapy as an effective form of trauma treatment.
What are your thoughts on EMDR therapy? Does it resonate with you? Let me know in the comments below.