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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): A Brief Overview

by: Zoë Cryns

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a one-one-one form of psychotherapy designed to reduce trauma-related stress, anxiety and depression symptoms associated with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and to improve overall mental health functioning.  An EMDR therapist will first review a client's history, then assess their readiness for EMDR prior to commencing treatment.

Preparation Phrase:

During the preparation phrase, the EMDR therapist works with the client to identify a positive memory associated with feelings of safety and calm; which is used if psychological distress is triggered.  Once the client has the ability to successfully and comfortably use their calming place as well as any other grounding resources the EMDR therapist and client have identified as appropriate and necessary, targeting of the traumatic and disturbing memory work is started.

Treatment Phase:

The targeted traumatic memory for a treatment session is accessed through attention to image, negative belief and body sensations.

Repetitive 30-second dual-attention exercises are conducted during which the client attends to a motor task while focusing on the targeted memory and any related negative thoughts, associations and body sensations.  The most common motor task used in EMDR is side-to-side eye movements such as following the EMDR therapist's finger; however, alternative options include hand tapping, tactile sensations, following a wand or wand, or listening to audio tones.  The exercises are repeated until the client reports no emotional distress.

The EMDR therapist then asks the client to think of a preferred positive belief regarding the incident and to focus on it while continuing with the exercise.  The exercise ends when the client reports with confidence a comfortable feelings and positive sense of self when recalling the targeted trauma.

The EMDR therapist and client then review the client's progress and discuss scenarios or contexts which might trigger psychological distress.  These triggers and positive images for appropriate future actions are also targeted and processed.  In addition, the EMDR therapist asks the client to keep a journal, note and material related to the traumatic memory and to focus on the previously identified safe or calm memory whenever psychological distress is triggered.

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