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How Does EMDR Therapy Work?

someone telling their friend to go to emdr therapy

EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, is a form of therapy that has been around for over thirty years. It has gained a great deal of recognition by professional organizations, clinicians, and academics as an excellent treatment method for disorders such as PTSD, anxiety and panic disorders, and depression. EMDR therapy is used to treat substance use disorders as well and is especially effective for a dual diagnosis of addiction with trauma-related disorders.

Mile High Recovery in Denver, CO, offers EMDR therapy as well as numerous other evidence-based treatments for mental health and substance use disorders. Let us know how we can help. Our online form will get you connected, or you can call us at 855.796.2102.

How is EMDR Therapy Different?

Unlike other forms of therapy used in treating mental health disorders, EMDR involves minimal talk and relies largely on the brain’s innate healing abilities triggered by stimulating both sides of the brain, usually through eye movement.

EMDR typically requires fewer sessions than other forms of mental health therapy. It is intended to resolve trauma that has been left unaddressed. When trauma remains unprocessed in the brain, those memories create ongoing damage and also work against the brain’s impulse to heal.

How Does EMDR Therapy Work within the Brain?

Three parts of the brain are involved in trauma and also in the healing of traumatic memories and experiences. They are:

  • The amygdala – a primitive area within the brain that sounds the alarm when stressful or dangerous events occur
  • The hippocampus – the part of the brain that aids the learning process, the laying down of memories, including memories of both danger and safety
  • The prefrontal cortex – the analytic part of the brain that controls emotion and behavior

Sometimes, we have traumatic experiences, and our brains heal, managing the process without our intervention. Normally, however, the memory remains with trauma and especially repeated trauma, and the stress response does too. The memory of trauma means that the fight, flight, or freeze instinct remains active. Not only do our bodies still feel the response to trauma, but the emotions and images associated with the trauma remain front and center. We cannot move past them. We are stuck inside the trauma.

Moving through the phases of EMDR therapy allows the brain to use its natural healing abilities to reconfigure the traumatic experience. Although still remembered, it no longer repeatedly sparks the stress response. For this reason, it treats anxiety, panic disorders, depression, grief, and PTSD–all disorders that can be linked to traumatic or highly stressful and activating experiences that provide ongoing triggers through life unless you receive some kind of intervention.

The EMDR Process in a Nutshell

EMDR focuses on the past, present, and future and takes clients through eight phases. The therapy sessions last about an hour, sometimes up to 90 minutes, and are conducted by a specifically trained therapist. They can be done in a talk therapy session, as a coordinated therapy with a different clinician, or as a stand-alone treatment.

The phases are as follows:

  • One. The therapist takes your history, at which point the two of you decide which traumatic event to focus on.
  • Two. Stress reduction involves learning imagery and distress-tolerance techniques to practice between meetings.
  • Three – six. You pinpoint a particular visual image linked to your traumatic memory, then a negative belief or emotion related to the event, and finally a positive target belief. During these phases, you experience bilateral movement of the eyes in repeated steps until all distress related to the trauma is gone.
  • Seven – eight. You will record your process, feelings, and related information in a logbook or diary and move toward a review of all your work to make sure there are no more physical reactions to the memory.

If you want to address a separate traumatic memory after phase eight, you can start the phased process over more than once until all trauma has been processed.

EMDR therapy helps you completely shift feelings of fear, shame, violation, grief, and anything else associated with your trauma into memories powerless to harm you or trigger damaging reactions. Not only that, you will feel empowered by your triumph over things that once seemed to control you.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Treatment at Mile High Recovery

At Mile High Recovery, we treat anxiety, PTSD, depression, and more on their own or co-occurring with addiction. We have clinicians trained in EMDR therapy who can combine it with talk therapy to offer you a coordinated treatment for your mental health challenges.

If you have questions about how Mile High can help you through EMDR, just give us a call at 855.796.2102 to find out more or use our online form.

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