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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

What is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a specialized and evidence-based psychotherapy approach primarily used to treat individuals who have experienced traumatic events or distressing life experiences. EMDR was developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s and has since gained widespread recognition as an effective treatment for trauma-related conditions.

During an EMDR session, the therapist guides a teen through a series of so-called bilateral stimulations. These are side-to-side stimuli, such as eye movements, hand taps, or auditory tones. This two-sided stimulation is believed to help the brain's processing of distressing memories and emotions, meaning a teen can begin to resolve them over the course of these sessions, through “reintegration”.

EMDR is mostly used in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related conditions. It can be effective for addressing anxiety, phobias, depression, and other emotional disturbances stemming from distressing life experiences or unprocessed, unresolved emotions.

What Conditions Are Treated with EMDR?

While EMDR is mostly used for PTSD, it can be used for other teen mental health issues as well. These might include:

  • Anxiety Disorders: EMDR can help individuals with anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder, particularly if their anxiety is related to past traumatic experiences.
  • Complicated Grief: EMDR can assist individuals dealing with complicated grief after the loss of a loved one by processing the emotions and memories associated with the loss.
  • Dissociative Disorders: EMDR can be part of the treatment plan for individuals with dissociative disorders, working to integrate fragmented memories and emotions.

What Does an EMDR Session Look Like?

A typical EMDR session follows a structured approach involving key stages. The specific details of each session may vary depending on a teen’s needs and the therapist's style, but here is a general outline:

  • History Taking: The therapist begins by gathering relevant information about a teen’s history, including potential traumatic events or distressing life experiences. This stage involves discussing a teen’s symptoms and emotional responses.
  • Preparation: The therapist explains the EMDR process, its purpose, and how bilateral stimulation (eye movements, taps, or tones) will be used during the session. Here, a teen is informed about what to expect and encouraged to ask any questions.
  • Identifying Target Memories: The therapist and client work together to identify specific distressing memories or images related to the targeted event or trauma. At this point, a teen might identify negative beliefs or thoughts associated with these memories. This is where repeat sessions typically begin.
  • Desensitization Phase: During this phase, the therapist guides the client through bilateral stimulation while the client focuses on the targeted memory and related negative thoughts. The bilateral stimulation helps facilitate the processing of the memory, reducing its emotional intensity. This is the beginning stage of any recurring EMDR session.
  • Installation Phase: The therapist assists the client in replacing negative beliefs with positive and adaptive ones. The client is encouraged to embrace more positive and self-affirming thoughts about themselves and the traumatic event, similar to other talk therapy modalities.
  • Body Scan: The therapist may conduct a body scan to check for any lingering tension or distress in the body related to the processed memory. Doing so can help a therapist ensure that a teen isn’t showing physical signs of recoil, or reactivity to their memories.
  • Closure: Towards the end of the session, the therapist guides the teen through a series of calming exercises to ensure they leave the session in a state of emotional stability, and a sense of safety.
  • Debriefing and Follow-Up: Now it’s time to talk and discuss the aftermath of the session, plan the target for the next session, and talk about how the last session played a role in changes a teen might be experiencing after treatment.

It is essential to remember that EMDR is a highly individualized process, and the therapist tailors each session to the client's specific needs and readiness to process traumatic memories. In other words, sessions are flexible, and might look different according to each person’s needs.

Commonly Asked Questions about EMDR

EMDR can be a confusing treatment process. Sometimes, there are questions about what eye movements might have to do with trauma or stress. At other times, there are questions about how effective the treatment is, versus other modalities for PTSD and conditions with related severity. We often field and answer these questions, and more:

How effective is EMDR?

EMDR was developed and refined for the treatment of stress disorders, particularly stress disorders related to trauma. It can be used to treat dissociative disorders, other stress disorders, and anxiety disorders, but its primary mechanism targets the way trauma affects the brain. However, not all people with traumatic experiences benefit the same way from EMDR. Its effectiveness can vary from person to person, the same way some people respond differently to a medication that works for others.

How many EMDR sessions are usually recommended?

Different clinics and therapists offer different frameworks for treatment. It can vary from 6 to 12 sessions, spaced out over as many weeks, or in two-sessions-per-week schedules. The length of the treatment is part of the discussion during history taking and preparation.

What can I expect after completing EMDR treatment?

Treatment effectiveness varies from person to person. An initial screening is meant to help establish compatibility, but even then there’s no guarantee that EMDR is the right treatment for your teen until after the first few sessions

If there is no noticeable improvement in response, reactivity, or other symptoms, then another treatment modality might be a better option for your teen. But if the treatment works, then its effects can help teens better cope with the severity of their symptoms, and the degree to which they play a role in their day-to-day responses to stimuli. How long this will last may depend on individual factors. The more stress a teen takes on, the shorter the amount of time before their symptoms might resurface,

especially if they can’t keep up with their stress management. It’s often a good idea to stay in touch with a counselor or therapist and talk about an appointment if things start getting worse again

EMDR at the Arrow House

Looking for more information about EMDR and other PTSD treatments for teens? Look no further than the Arrow House. We can help you find the right treatment plan for your loved one and offer a wide variety of modalities in addition to EMDR. Contact us at the Arrow House to learn more today, or call us for a consultation at 657.282.4263.