Just as the body automatically tries to heal itself after being wounded, so does the mind. Your mind is on a constant journey to health and stability, but, sometimes, traumatic events make it exceedingly difficult to achieve mental health. Events, actions or even words and feelings can trigger the traumatic event and place you right back in the state you were in mentally during and after the trauma.
Adaptive resolution is how your mind normally processes negative events: As less-than-ideal events occur, your mind recognizes the events and their negative effects, and then places them in the broader scheme of life. For example, if you were to spill your coffee, your adaptive resolution would place that negative event in the “big picture” and recognize that, although not ideal, it isn’t a detrimental occurrence. In especially traumatic events, an adaptive resolution might not be reached. When this occurs, present behavior is “rooted in and charged by dysfunctionally stored memories.”
If an adaptive resolution isn’t reached after trauma, a person may tend to relive the event and its associated emotions and sensations instead of being able to place the trauma in the past and reflect on it without it affecting the present.
The goal of EMDR is to access traumatic memories in the ways they are stored: sensory, somatic, emotional and, sometimes, as irrational beliefs. Choices Psychotherapy of Minneapolis is able to offer such treatment to help you through traumatic experiences and their resonating impact into the present and future.
Developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing has been the ideal treatment for those who’ve experienced and struggle with trauma. Validated in over 24 studies, EMDR is incredibly well-researched and is recommended by the American Psychiatric Association, the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs. EMDR is about processing your trauma and reprocessing it in a way that makes it reflective and a part of your past from which you can move forward and not get stuck in.
Unlike traditional psychotherapy, EMDR isn’t completely talk therapy. Healing through EMDR comes through the client’s own intellectual and emotional processes and not the therapist’s evaluation and interpretation. Reprocessing traumatic events in one’s mind takes place over eight steps with EMRD therapy.
Step 1: History-taking Sessions
In this initial phase, the client and therapist identify targets to heal during treatment. Targets may include distressing or traumatic memories, current events or related events of the past. The readiness of the client is determined and a treatment plan is made; together, the client and therapist discuss skills and behaviors that need to be honed as treatment progresses.
Step 2: Processing
The client and therapist discuss all of the different ways emotions can be processed. A variety of techniques are considered for use not only during sessions, but for use in between sessions, too. The point of this is for the client to learn how to maintain equilibrium between visits so constant movement toward mental health is achieved.
Steps 3: Assessment
This is the step that involves eye movement. During this third phase, the client is asked to visualize the trauma and describe the event itself with its associated emotions. When the mental image of the trauma is paired with its respective negative thoughts, the client is also asked to watch the therapist move their hand (or, sometimes, blinking lights, tapping or auditory tones) within the client’s field of vision. This causes involuntary eye movement as the client follows instructions. After each period of eye movement, the client is asked to clear their mind and relax.
Step 4: Desensitization
This phase calls for clients to again visualize the traumatic event, think of the associated negative thoughts and beliefs about oneself as a result of the event, and the bodily sensations caused by the anxiety spurred from the trauma. At the same time, the client is again asked to follow the therapist’s hand movements with their eyes. Just as in step 3, the patient is asked to relax after following a set of hand motions, but they are then asked to determine what they’re thinking. The new mental images, thoughts or sensations are the new focus of the next set of hand motions.
This process is repeated until the client no longer feels significant distress when visualizing the original trauma.
Step 5: Reprocessing
Once the trauma and its related emotions are fully processed, now begins reprocessing how to think about the trauma. This phase requires the client to start restructuring their trauma by thinking about the event while thinking a positive thought about themselves. While the client is thinking of the trauma paired with a positive thought, the therapist will perform another set of eye motion exercises. This goal of this step is for the client to truly embrace and believe the positive statements they’re saying about themselves.
Step 6: Body Scanning
Just as with step 4, associated bodily sensations are called on for this step. This step requires the client to mentally focus on the traumatic event with the positive thought while also being cognitive of the associated bodily sensations. The sensations are targeted with another set of eye movements from the therapist. EMDR is considered effective when the client can think of the traumatic event without experiencing any negative bodily sensations.
Step 7: Closure
This phase is when the therapist determines if the traumatic memory and its associated thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, etc. have been processed and reprocessed. If the trauma hasn’t been reprocessed, step 2 and beyond is repeated.
Step 8: Re-evaluation
Re-evaluation happens at the beginning of each EMDR session (except for the very first session). This is when the client can reflect upon progress made in previous sessions or journaling and home exercises can be discussed and reviewed.