EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It works by directing your eyes to move in a certain way, not dissimilar to hypnosis—but with added science instead of magic. This movement then stimulates the brain without triggering invasive conversations. The combination of eye movement, focus, and brain work, compound together to recreate and contextualize an event in a new manner. Or, they take a bad experience, and think about it in a different manner which reduces discomfort greatly because of the split attention. This is why it works well for anxiety—it desensitizes you to the thing which started the anxiety. In fact, EMDR helped to reduce symptoms created by PTSD, thus making it a highly noteworthy treatment for anxiety and some other mental disorders.
How EMDR Works: The First Four Steps
There are eight phases for EMDR to work. Each phase has its own steps and preliminaries before moving onto the one after it.
- Phase 1: Client history and planning their treatment
- The patient would meet their therapist and their responses to certain stimuli will be tested. In the case of anxiety this could mean that they interact with something related to their anxiety. Depending on the type of reaction in this phase, there will be a plan created for both the patient and the therapist.
- Phase 2: Preparation and relationship building
- Here is where the rubber meets the road. The process will begin by the therapist beginning to build a trust relationship between both parties. This phase will also include coping mechanisms for when the patient revisits their trauma. For anxiety this may include breathing exercises.
- Phase 3: Targeting a memory with positive and negative reinforcement
- Two memories will be targeted before the therapy begins. The first will be the negative, problematic memory—the second will be a happy or calming memory. Both are important for different reasons, but basically the patient is attempting to put the positive feelings over the negative, in an attempt to undo the traumatic emotion attached to the negative memory.
- Phase 4: Disturbing the event memory using eye movement
- In this phase, the therapist will call upon the negative memory and use a series of important cues for the patient’s eyes. This divided attention will lessen the impact of the traumatic event and the process will be repeated until the patient no longer has a visceral reaction to the memory.
How EMDR Works: The Last Four Steps
- Phase 5: Installation of positive emotion over the negative
- The therapist installs the positive emotions over the now dulled negative emotions. This process reinforced the feelings of the positive memories.
- Phase 6: Examine body sensations and explore them
- During this phase, there may still be a bodily reaction to the negative memory, even though the mental portion of the memory is a pleasant one. If there is a bodily sensation as a reaction to the negative memory, it is explored before continuing treatment.
- Phase 7: Self-control techniques
- The therapist reintroduces grounding techniques and relaxing techniques before finishing with the sessions.
- Phase 8: Subsequent reevaluation as needed
- Usually the results from EMDR are lasting, as long as the patient continues the practice. However, there are occasional times when the treatment can become less effective because of a lack of implementation.
After Effects of EMDR
EMDR is perfectly safe despite the discomfort of the first few sessions. Unfortunately, anxiety and PTSD typically stem from traumatic events which can take time to unravel. It doesn’t work immediately. However, despite this, the results of EMDR are better than medications short term and have long-lasting emotional support results for those who continue to use it. In general, these are the benefits of using EMDR:
- Rewires negative thinking into positive thinking
- Can improve self-esteem
- Does not require in depth discussion
- Initiates relaxation over the uncomfortable memory
EMDR and Anxiety
Anxiety is an all-encompassing disorder when it is intense and triggered, much like PTSD. EMDR is a proven therapy against PTSD, so much so that there is an institution dedicated to its practice and study—which is supported by the office of veteran affairs. This makes EMDR extremely well equipped to deal with other forms of disorders including anxiety specifically. The relaxation techniques are particularly well suited to those with anxiety because of their immediate reactions to stimulation.
At Stenzel Clinical Services, we are well equipped to help patients through their darkest hours. Our clinicians are familiar with many treatments to help you find the method that helps your symptoms the most. If you experience chronic worry, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, restlessness, or panic from specific stimuli, there is a good chance you could be suffering from anxiety.