Ten years into being trained in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), I am still amazed by its ability to transform a life filled with trauma, anxiety, and hypervigilance into one of presence, mindfulness, and relief. Clients and clinicians often find themselves confused about EMDR, and I would like to address what is meant by symptom-based and eight-phased trauma treatment.
EMDR is a treatment modality that is research driven and well known for its ability to reduce symptoms associated with posttraumatic stress (PTSD), and your therapist may recommend it to relieve your symptoms associated with PTSD. EMDR clinicians around the world are finding, in clinical practice, that it is also effective for addressing an even wider range of symptoms, especially those rooted in the events of the past.
With this in mind, EMDR is what you could call a symptom-based protocol. This means that EMDR therapists focus on how your present experience is rooted in old stuff, even things that you think that you are over. We look at how the symptoms you have in the present mimic, or cluster, around those events in that past.
Trauma is tricky and can disguise itself as many things. An EMDR therapist will review your symptoms and review how your current thoughts, emotions, beliefs about yourself, and physical sensations may be related to disturbing life events and traumas from the past. Depending on when your EMDR therapist was trained, he or she may have different ways of asking you to prioritize and list what events are still contributing to your symptoms.
Even though you may not believe that those events from the past are really a big deal, they are still locked in your nervous system in what is termed a state-dependent form. Often, they are not completely processed and healed, like a record stuck in a groove. As time progresses, the record turns; it still plays, but the disturbance repeats itself over an over again, until the scratch is healed.
An Eight-Phased Treatment Model
Often mistakenly viewed as an intervention, EMDR is an inclusive treatment modality, one that includes eight comprehensive treatment phases. Each phase is a unique and necessary part of the approach. It is imperative that your EMDR therapist walk you through each of the eight phases. While they can be circular, and you may go back and forth between them, each phase will help you as you complete the therapy. The eight phases include history taking, preparation, assessment, desensitization, installation, body scan, closure, and reevaluation. Unfortunately, EMDR has become known primarily for its desensitization phase, which is what people often confuse as the sole part of the therapy.
With this knowledge, those of you who are seeing an EMDR therapist can inquire where you are in the process, what phase you are in, or how you will prioritize the events from the past to work on them. You can also find out what symptoms you are focusing on and how the past relates to them. I often find that the more my clients know about each phase, the safer they feel and the more they feel they are part of the process.
If you have general questions about EMDR, please post them. Keep in mind that I can’t speak about your clinical work or therapy or provide clinical advice. I will try to cover your questions about the treatment in future blog posts.
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