By: Daniel R. Gaita, MA
Originally designed to treat traumatic memories, Eye Movement Desensitization and Repossessing (EMDR) has demonstrated efficacy in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Van der Kolk, 2003). While its name has created confusion, this article directs the reader to rather think of EMDR as simply, reprocessing therapy, or in keeping with the acronym EMDR, Emotional and Mental Development and Reorganization. More specifically, EMDR is a modern and integrative approach, which implements eight phases of procedures and protocols, synthesizing elements of cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, person-centered, and body-based therapy.
By utilizing the Adaptive Information Processing model (AIP), which states that memory is associated, thus learning occurs through the creation of new associations, EMDR allows one to address dysfunctional experiences or traumas by changing their associations and thus reprocessing the memory to result in more adaptive outcomes (reduction of symptoms).
The goal of EMDR is to target and connect unprocessed traumatic memories to the more adaptive information located in other memory networks by associating the traumatic memories with existing adaptive information. The result is a reduction in symptoms as related to image, thought, affect, and body sensation.
History-taking, evaluation and treatment planning. This phase is similar to standard psychotherapy but also identifies key life events for further targeting and processing as well as present situations, which cause distresses that interfere with adaptive functioning.
Preparation. Next the client is educated about symptoms and treatment expectations.
Processing. Phases three-through six involve processing distressing memories, present triggers or future templates so as to mobilize the information and facilitate connections with other adaptive information.
Closure. Represents an evaluation of adequacy of processing along with self-calming interventions from phase two. Additionally, the client monitors intersession responses using a log.
Reevaluation. Whereby evaluation of previous work is conducted at the beginning of each session. Treatments successes are assessed and further coping strategies are utilized.
Having been working as an advocate for combat veterans since 2012, and also having a diagnosis of PTSD, I was most inspired by the realization that EMDR enables the clients to evolve from the symptoms of trauma and actually turn those traumas into fruitful, useful and purposeful experience’s that serve to help others. Many of us in the combat veteran community are now referring to such biopsychosocial evolution as Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). EMDR appears to be an effective gateway towards that end.
Mattis, J.M. (2017) Mattis on PTSD and PTG Post Traumatic Growth. Youtube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89s4fqJAepM
Van der Kolk, B. (2002). EMDR and information processing in psychotherapy treatment. In M. Solomon & D. Siegel (Eds.), Healing trauma (pp. 168–195). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Van der Kolk, B. (2003). EMDR and information processing in psychotherapy treatment: Personal Development and Global Implications. In M. Solomon & D. Siegel (Eds.), Healing trauma (pp. 196–220). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co.