Though social media outlets often make life seem perfect for many people, we all go through struggles at one time or another. For some people, these struggles come and go and don’t result in any lasting trauma. However, many others experience lasting symptoms resulting from a traumatic experience. This can manifest in many different ways, including anxiety, depression, disassociation, reckless behavior, and PTSD, and in some cases, these conditions make it feel difficult to perform typical everyday tasks.
No matter the situation, it’s important to remember that there is always help available if you are experiencing symptoms of mental illness after a traumatic life event. There is absolutely nothing shameful about this human experience, and there are so many routes to take to help you feel like yourself again. While treatment often begins with talk therapy or medication, there are other treatment options if you feel like those methods alone haven’t been effective for you. EMDR is a treatment option that can be added to your mental wellness plan to boost your healing journey and help you to feel better faster.
What Is EMDR?
EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a type of therapy in which a therapist or other specialist walks you through your traumatic experience in order to rewire the brain to react differently to the event in the future. This treatment helps you to process what has happened and allows your brain to move out of the psychological distress of a traumatic event and into a healing state. This method often yields faster results than traditional methods and has been shown to help treat conditions such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, phobias, grief, and panic attacks, to name a few.
An EMDR Summary
Though it can be incredibly effective for some people, experiencing EMDR Therapy is not helpful for everyone. A therapist will be able to collaborate with you to determine if this modality can be helpful for your symptoms and experiences. Once you’ve both agreed that EMDR is a valid treatment option, the therapist will ask you to recall a specific upsetting event. It’s helpful to note that you likely will not have to talk in detail about your trauma. Instead, your practitioner will ask you general questions that will allow them to know where to begin.
As you are focusing on the event, the therapist will perform a series of eye movements, sounds, and taps. Between each series, the therapist will have you express what comes to mind and your feelings about the upsetting event. The idea is that, over time, this process will help to change your emotional response and perhaps alter your insight about your experience. This process can be used on its own or may be implemented as part of a standard talk therapy session. Each EMDR session is usually between 60 and 90 minutes, and you have the power to stop your provider at any time if you need to.
Phases of EMDR Therapy Treatment
Though the above summary may seem straightforward, the process of EMDR is a bit more in-depth. Before considering EMDR therapy, it’s important to understand how the process works and what kind of work is required. This psychotherapy method occurs in eight distinct stages, each of which could take anywhere from one session to several months of regular sessions. Many people feel frustrated that there is no set timeline for this process, but it’s important that your EMDR experience is tailored to your unique situation. Each person has a different experience with their trauma, and there is no rush in reprocessing those events.
The first stage of EMDR is deciding if it is right for you. This decision is a collaboration between you and your provider and occurs during an open and honest first discussion. It is during this appointment that your provider will be able to see if you are in the right headspace to begin EMDR or if it would be better for you to take other steps before diving in. In some cases, a patient is not in the right place in their journey to begin processing their trauma head-on, and that’s okay. This first phase will determine your next steps if EMDR is not the route for you.
To determine if EMDR is a good fit for you, your practitioner will address three main concerns during phase one.
These concerns are:
- Your past experiences
- Your current reactions to past experiences
- Your future plans or goals in relation to past experiences
The first component contains the root of your mental illness symptoms, and the second is what will be altered during the EMDR process in order to produce the third. Through examining your past experiences, your provider will be able to identify your triggers as a place to begin and provide a goal to meet through your EMDR journey.
The second step in EMDR therapy requires quite a bit of solo work. As the client, you will need to spend time practicing techniques and imagery work that can help calm your body. This stage gives you the tools necessary to work through big emotions or stressors on your own when they arise. For some people, this stage comes easily. For others, it takes a little bit longer. Both are normal and depend on the person and the trauma they’ve experienced.
This phase is also where the patient and provider develop a bond of trust. This is essential for many reasons. A patient can’t be honest with a provider that they do not trust, right? Without honesty, EMDR tactics are ineffective because they can’t get to the very root of the issue. If a practitioner doesn’t trust their patient, they cannot accurately assess progress or even prescribe the right course of treatment. Honesty and trust are essential here.
At the Sage Neuroscience Center Clinic, we take phase 2 of EMDR therapy very seriously. We believe that our clients and our practitioners are on a team. Your treatment plan should always be specially tailored to you, and you should have a hand in developing it. We take our time building trust to help you truly feel better. Your healing is our priority.
The third phase is where you and your therapist will decide on a target event for your EMDR. At this starting point, your therapist will begin to ask you questions about your physical sensations, beliefs, and emotions surrounding your target event. For example, you may say something like, “I feel useless when I think of my neglect as a child,” or “I get a stomach ache when I think of my neglect as a child.”
You will then determine a positive thought or feeling that you’d rather experience when you think of the event, such as feeling safe because you are an adult who no longer experiences neglect and has power over your own life. These goals are a mixture of physical feelings and internalized phrases or thoughts.
Phases 4 and 5
These phases are where the tones, taps, and eye movements come into play. As you recount your traumatic events, your provider will ask what Subjective Units of Disturbance (SUD) level you are experiencing. For example, if you recall an event that is deeply disturbing to you, you may be at an SUD level of 10. While directing you to tap or move your eyes in an intentional manner, your therapist will talk you through the event and ask you various specific questions.
In doing this, they are slowly working to shift your perspective from your current, negative thoughts and feelings to your desired positive or peaceful ones. The tapping helps you to access areas of your brain that are dormant during other forms of therapy, allowing the rewiring to happen more rapidly. This phase is repeated in several sets until your SUD level is reduced.
Phase 6 is a scanning and check-in phase. It allows you and your practitioner to understand what kind of progress was made during the last set. During this phase, you are free to let your mind wander, and your provider will discuss with you where your mind goes during this time. They will also note your SUD score after the set. Some of your thoughts and feelings may be a sign of what needs to be worked on next or revisited in the future, whereas they may be an indication that the EMDR created a change in your thought patterns.
Your provider may also ask about the initial traumatic event and ask you to mention any physical symptoms you have now when you think about it. These areas are then targeted in further sets, minimizing all emotional and physical reactions to the event. Phases 4-6 continue for as long as is needed to gain closure over your traumatic event, a time period that varies from person to person.
Some trauma responses can be resolved in one session, while others take much longer. Phase 7 is about closing the session. Your provider will help you regain a sense of calm so you can leave the session in control. They will also remind you of the tactics needed to remain calm when negative thoughts or feelings arise; it’s important that you are able to function as usual between sessions. It’s important to note that just because your issues were not resolved in one session, it does not mean that the EMDR is not working. Your therapist will likely have you continue to practice self-soothing techniques and may ask that you journal about any physical sensations or negative thoughts that arise as a guidepost for your EMDR progress.
When your EMDR process is complete, the eighth stage allows reflection on how far you’ve come and what still needs work. For many people, the initial traumatic event may no longer be a problem, but offshoots or related triggers may still be an issue. This gives a starting point to begin EMDR again if needed.
This phase is a truly beautiful place to reflect on how far you’ve come and be proud of yourself for working through your difficult emotions. You have chosen not to let your trauma dictate your quality of life, and taking steps to readjust your mind is truly admirable. Appreciating progress is important.
What to Expect After EMDR
Aside from reprocessing trauma and relieving trauma response symptoms, there are a few EMDR therapy side effects that you should be aware of. Some people experience realistic or vivid dreams, lightheadedness, or an increased sense of awareness after an EMDR session. These side effects may sound alarming but rest assured that they are completely normal. You would expect to feel some pain or swelling around an injury on your body as it heals — these side effects just indicate that your brain is reprocessing and healing too.
It’s also common to feel large waves of emotion, especially if you have experienced depression. As your body releases its tension surrounding your trauma, unexpected emotions may appear. This is to be expected and is a great time to use your techniques from Phase 2.
For some people, bringing up trauma is extremely difficult. You may experience a significant amount of discomfort confronting your traumatic event and trying to work through it. This is completely normal. Your brain wants to cling to the familiarity of its old ways of thinking, even if the old ways of thinking are deeply harmful. In time, your brain will calm and readjust, and these symptoms will fade. However, if you are working through a significant amount of trauma, you may experience discomfort during the process. Again, this is a wonderful opportunity to use your Phase 2 tactics. Always remember that though it may be uncomfortable in the moment, the process is for your ultimate wellbeing and happiness.
How Does EMDR Make You Feel?
This is a big question. EMDR has a profound positive impact on many people. Studies show that a significant amount of people see a reduction in PTSD symptoms such as hallucinations, depression, and anxiety after being treated with EMDR. In another study, EMDR effectively helped 68% of participants see a reduction in depression disorders and symptoms.
Generally, it’s common to feel lighter and less weighed down after going through EMDR. The problem that brought you to therapy often feels less significant, and old triggers won’t have their usual effect. You’ll likely find that you are no longer scared or anxious about things that once bothered you.
In the long term, you may find that the trajectory of your life changed because of your EMDR therapy. Without being controlled by your trauma, you may be able to socialize or date more often. With less fear about common situations, you could find that you begin to travel more often or fulfill more of your bucket list items. Your relationships may become stronger, as you will have a higher capacity to be present and involved with your family and friends. The long-term effects really depend on how your trauma affected you and what it prevented you from doing.
How Long Does It Take for EMDR to Work?
Just as everyone’s experiences and feelings are unique, the time it takes to reprocess trauma is different for everyone as well. However, there are a few factors that indicate how long it may take to feel the effects of EMDR. If you are seeking treatment after a single traumatic event such as an accident, the process may take effect more quickly. For those seeking treatment for prolonged trauma, such as abuse, it may take longer. This is because, during prolonged and ongoing trauma, your brain has more time to develop habits that later lead to negative emotions. Single occurrences, while still impactful, do not give the brain as much time to form habits. Each phase takes a different amount of time for different people as well. Certain phases may come easily, while others take more time to work through. It’s certainly possible to work through your trauma in a few sessions of EMDR, but it’s not uncommon to take a few weeks or months to see the changes.
Long-term effects will obviously happen over time. After your EMDR therapy, the pace at which your life changes is entirely up to you. You may wish to slowly start making changes toward a happier, more authentic life, or you may realize that there’s no time to waste and make changes right away. The measure of how EMDR “works” is not measured by a universal standard, but if you can think of a traumatic event or encounter a trigger without falling into old reactions, the EMDR is working.
What Kinds of Trauma Does EMDR Treat?
It’s a common misconception that trauma looks the same, or is obvious, to everyone. The reality is that there’s a myriad of ways in which a person may become traumatized. Some veterans have PTSD from their time at war, while others can have PTSD from an accident or witnessing a crime. Some people are born with anxiety disorders, while others experience chronic anxiety following the death of a loved one. Some people know exactly what their traumatic event was, while others experienced childhood abuse that they’ve normalized or blocked out of their memories.
No one kind of trauma is more legitimate than another, and any kind of event or upbringing can trigger experiences of mental illness later in life. EMDR can treat all kinds of trauma effects, from PTSD to anxiety to phobias to eating disorders. The question isn’t usually whether your trauma is “right” for EMDR treatment, but rather if EMDR treatment is right for you at this point in your mental health journey.
How to Find EMDR Practitioners in New Mexico
After reading about the profound, evidence-based effects of EMDR, you may be wondering, how do I find EMDR therapy near me? EMDR is a specialized form of therapy, and not all mental health practitioners offer it. Sage Neuroscience Center is the foremost EMDR center in New Mexico. Our practitioners are highly trained and deeply passionate about their clients. We approach EMDR as a collaboration between provider and client. We believe that trust between you and your provider should lead the way for your treatment plan, not your circumstances or diagnosis. EMDR at Sage in New Mexico is run by people working with people, not people working with diagnoses.
If you want to experience EMDR in an open, accepting environment, Sage Neuroscience Clinic is for you. We believe in integrated mental health that views each individual holistically, so we provide care that’s tailored to who you are, not just your diagnosis. Folks from all over New Mexico visit our clinic for our affordable, effective mental health services, and we are proud to say that we’ve helped thousands of people move on from traumatic experiences. To begin your EMDR journey with Sage Neuroscience Clinic, complete an intake form online. No experience is too big or too small for us to take on. Come as you are; we’re happy to have you.
Therapist & Behavioral Health Intensive Outpatient Program Facilitator
Dierdre Wilson is an EMDR therapist (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) who works with clients who have trauma and other anxiety disorders. She also helps run our BHIOP group. Her main goal is to provide as much support as she can and teach solid skills/tools to help empower my clients.