Individuals who survive a traumatic experience may not process it in a healthy or complete manner. They may not have been in a secure enough place to do so at the time, or their mind may have repressed the memory as a defense mechanism. EMDR therapy exists to help people safely work through their memories of a disturbing event.
Veterans, who often live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders, stand among the demographics who tend to benefit the most from EMDR. Combat exposure, military sexual trauma, training accidents, and other unique challenges make them more likely to experience long-lasting trauma. This makes EMDR an excellent treatment option for veterans with PTSD.
To further explain why, we’ll take a deeper look into the history, methodology, and effectiveness of EMDR therapy below.
What Is EMDR Therapy?
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a type of interactive psychotherapy used to treat several different mental health conditions. But its most widespread use is to treat PTSD and help people work through trauma-related memories.
EMDR proposes that these traumatic memories are the cause of negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Once the memories undergo proper processing, someone can reduce or eliminate their associated distress. EMDR accomplishes this by taking advantage of a technique known as bilateral stimulation, or rhythmic right and left stimulation.
Typically, bilateral stimulation occurs through tapping or eye movements. For example, during EMDR therapy, a therapist may ask their patient to follow their finger with their eyes as it moves back and forth in front of their face.
While someone engages in bilateral stimulation, they will talk through a traumatic memory. Bilateral stimulation is associated with relaxation and decreased emotional distress. As a result, it makes it easier to discuss trauma and feel the positive impact of EMDR therapy.
History of EMDR
EMDR therapy was introduced in 1987 by American psychologist Francine Shapiro. She discovered it by chance when she noticed how her eye movements affected her own negative thought patterns. It made her traumatic memories easier to process, and she theorized the same could apply to other individuals.
Over 30 years of thorough research and development have proven her correct. EMDR therapy is now a widely used treatment option for PTSD and other mental health issues.
How Does EMDR Therapy Work?
EMDR therapy typically consists of six to 12 sessions that take place over the course of a few weeks. At Heroes’ Mile, the exact duration of treatment will depend on your progress over time. Some people see the effects of EMDR very early on, while others may benefit from additional sessions.
In addition, at the beginning and end of each 90-minute session, your EMDR therapist will check in with you and ask about your stress level. When you rate your stress, you become more in tune with your emotions and track your progress. This awareness helps you gain more control over your feelings, and by extension, your life.
Phases of EMDR
As for the specific structure of EMDR, we can look to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) for guidance. The APA segments EMDR therapy into eight different phases to make it an easier process to follow and prepare for. Let’s take a closer look at each of the eight stages:
- Phase 1: History-taking and planning. The patient works with their therapist to develop a treatment plan based on their history, goals, and needs relating to their trauma.
- Phase 2: Preparation. The EMDR therapist explains the overall process in great detail, allowing the client to practice the eye movements and ask additional questions.
- Phase 3: Assessment. The patient identifies a “target memory” associated with their trauma and evaluates components such as its images, emotions, and body sensations.
- Phase 4: Desensitization. While using bilateral stimulation, the patient thinks and talks about the target memory until their distress decreases.
- Phase 5: Installation. The patient discusses and strengthens a positive belief they want to link to the target memory.
- Phase 6: Body scan. While thinking about the positive belief and the target memory, the client assesses their body’s physical reaction and reports on any lingering distress.
- Phase 7: Closure. The EMDR therapist helps the patient return to the present in a calm manner, even if the reprocessing is not fully complete.
- Phase 8: Evaluation. The therapist analyzes the patient’s mental condition to determine the progress made, and they work together to identify the next target memories.
Who Benefits From EMDR Therapy?
As discussed previously, EMDR therapy is most commonly used during PTSD treatment. This makes it an invaluable tool for veterans, who have a predisposition to post-traumatic stress. In practice, though, EMDR is very flexible. It can benefit anyone who has experienced a traumatic or distressing event and needs help processing it.
For example, in many cases, people with mental health conditions other than PTSD live through stressful, traumatic experiences as well. EMDR has shown to be effective in these scenarios, too. This includes any of the following mental illnesses:
Using EMDR therapy to treat these conditions may help resolve the underlying cause responsible for them in the first place. Trauma has a strong, long-lasting effect on someone’s mental health. Because of this, it’s crucial to work through traumatic events in a controlled, safe environment.
Is EMDR Effective?
With so many potential treatment options, it’s natural to want to know which are most effective for treating PTSD. In this case, extensive research has shown that EMDR works, especially in regards to trauma and post-traumatic stress. The available data is substantial enough that the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs both recommend EMDR therapy for individuals with PTSD.
Most people who participate in EMDR therapy report seeing a “medium to large” impact on their symptoms. In addition, results are often achieved in a shorter time frame than other treatment methods. This makes it a very appealing option, as individuals who try it can improve rather quickly.
To maximize the extent of someone’s recovery, EMDR should occur in conjunction with other effective treatment options, such as:
Viewed independently, the efficacy of EMDR is comparable to that of similar therapies, such as CBT. That’s why we utilize a variety of treatment options, as seen above. Combining an interactive psychotherapy like EMDR with talk therapy and recreational activities builds upon the foundation of recovery.
Try EMDR Therapy at Heroes’ Mile
Heroes’ Mile is an addiction treatment center created for veterans by veterans. Our staff members possess first-hand knowledge of the types of traumatic memories someone may have from their time in the military.
Moreover, we are fully equipped to deliver first-rate EMDR therapy to veterans living with PTSD and substance abuse. Our numerous addiction treatment programs utilize this kind of therapy as part of larger, comprehensive recovery plans.
Remember that with the proper resources, anyone can recover from traumatic events and addiction. We’re ready to provide the support you need to return to a functional, fulfilling life.