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Using EMDR in RECOvery

EMDR — or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing — is a form of therapy that utilizes visual stimulation to aid in processing trauma. For patients looking for relief from recurring trauma or triggers, EMDR can help soothe or review those triggers, leaving less of a mental scar.

What Does EMDR Treat?

EMDR can help with a variety of mental health concerns, including:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Triggering traumas
  • Panic attacks 

Trauma and other underlying mental health issues can trigger addictive tendencies. Therefore, EMDR can be beneficial to those who suffer from addiction or are in recovery as well.

How Does EMDR Work?

According to a study published by the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, EMDR was designed to treat patients with PTSD and trauma stemming from abuse or painful memories. The connection between painful triggers and adverse reactions can be lessened through EMDR, which has helped many patients who suffer adverse effects from trauma. EMDR is medication-free and uses eight phases for the successful completion of this therapy.

EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to help a person relax during sessions. Bilateral stimulation occurs when a person feels sensations that alternate between the left and right sides of the body. Bilateral stimulation in EMDR usually consists of moving the eyes from left to right (hence, “eye movement”) as the patient follows the therapist’s fingers or pen with their eyes. However, other types of bilateral stimulation can be used, such as “tapping” alternating sides of the body or auditory input from one ear to the other.  

Phase 1: Client History and Treatment Planning

This phase includes the client’s shared medical and mental health history, conscious traumas, fears, and an overall profile of the client to determine treatment.

Phase 2: Preparation

This phase is when the therapist determines targets for the patient to achieve and sets a plan for the patient. This plan can be discussed for patient approval but generally is left up to the therapist. Preparation is also when the therapist gives the patient self-regulation techniques to use during the exercise and after incomplete sessions or between sessions. Stop signals and other means of communication with the therapist are also established. The patient should have the knowledge and means to communicate with the therapist and be fully prepared before therapy begins.

Phase 3: Assessment

In this phase, the therapist and patient work together to identify specific memories and triggers that will be targeted during the exercise. This phase also includes the patient identifying negative beliefs (ex. “I’m worthless” or “I am always in danger”) about themselves that they would like to change. The patient will also be encouraged to create a new, positive belief (ex. “I’m worthy of happiness” or “I am safe”) to replace the former (which will come back in the “installation” phase). 

The therapist will use two scales to test the abrasiveness of the memory: the validity of cognition scale (VOC) and the subjective units of disturbance scale (SUDS). The goal is for the treatment to help ease the pain of these memories while replacing negative self-beliefs developed following traumatic events.

Phase 4: Desensitization

In this phase, the therapist will ask the patient to think about images, bodily sensations, or other feelings reminiscent of the disturbing memory and focus on these sensations. The therapist will encourage the patient to remain relaxed using bilateral stimulation while the patient focuses on their traumatic or distressing memories. Patients will also be asked to remember the stop signals and means for self-regulation reviewed in Phase 2 as they work. The therapist will pay close attention to the patient while the patient focuses on their memories.

Phase 5: Installation

In this phase, the therapist will help the patient replace their negative beliefs with positive ones. In other words, the therapist will help the patient install a new belief to replace the old ones resulting from the traumatic event. The therapist will evaluate the patient’s new beliefs by using the VOC scale to determine the “strength” of the belief (or how much the patient feels that the new beliefs are true). 

Phase 6: Body Scan

This phase helps the patient know if they still have anything they need to work on and helps the therapist determine how they will work on it. The patient is asked to do a body scan to check if there is residual tension in the body and help the therapist further target how they need to perform EMDR. The therapist often looks for familiar panic and stress reactions in response to the images they worked on in earlier phases.

Phase 7: Closure

This phase allows the patient and therapist to review the self-regulation techniques used when they close each session. Closure often helps the patient pull their mind away from negative memories and focus on their normal day-to-day activities until the next session. The patient and therapist will also record any effects or disturbances between sessions and figure out how to target them next time. 

Phase 8: Reevaluation

In the reevaluation phase, the patient and therapist discuss how they think the previous seven phases went and identify what else they’d like to try moving forward. EMDR can cycle for as many rounds as it takes for a patient to feel comfortable and ready to face life head-on.

Although trauma is difficult and scary to deal with, you’re worthy of a life where you don’t need to worry about triggering memories. At RECO Intensive, we understand that exposure to trauma can be a life-altering experience. Using careful guidance and facilitation, RECO Intensive offers EMDR therapy as a safe setting to tackle those painful traumas head-on. With our therapists, alumni, and specialists, we can help you live a life no longer controlled by your trauma. For those in or out of recovery, we can offer peace and solidarity with a care team you can trust. Our individualized plans and therapy options not only provide comfort but can reveal a new life in you. Your journey is worth it, and RECO Intensive is here to help you start that journey. For more information, call RECO Intensive today at (561) 464-6533. Together, we’ll help you get back to a brighter future.

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