What Can Rapid Eye Movement Therapy Help With?
Content/Trigger Warning: Note that this article may contain topics related to trauma, such as sexual assault and violence.
Have you ever felt “stuck” in a pattern that you can’t seem to escape? Do you find yourself facing the same situation time and time again? Ever felt anxiety in social settings, no matter how many times you’ve tried to overcome it? You may have unresolved past trauma that gets triggered by present situations. The good news is there are therapeutic processes that may help you resolve unresolved trauma and move past the past. Sites such as BetterHelp provide online therapy sessions with EMDR, CBT, and many more.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, is a relatively new form of psychotherapy that focuses on relieving symptoms of trauma, such as PTSD, nightmares, anxiety, and out-of-body experiences.
How does EMDR help?
EDMR follows the model of API or Adaptive Information Processing. According to the API model, memories are stored in our minds as information. Our stored memories process similar events in the present based on past experiences. Unprocessed memories will elicit the same emotional reactions experienced in the past.
Essentially, the past becomes the present.
EDMR focuses on these unprocessed memories. Therapists work with patients to identify unprocessed memories, analyze current situations, imagine different outcomes, and finally build future templates for these imagined scenarios. Patients change the narrative of their trauma with new information and more nuanced awareness of how these events can play out differently.
EMDR helps patients with unresolved trauma by using a technique called bilateral stimulation. Patients revisit traumatic situations in a safe setting. As they recount an experience, therapists ask patients to follow their hand’s movement as they move back and forth in front of the patient’s field of vision.
The goal of EMDR is not to alter emotions or behaviors but to minimize symptoms to revisit these traumatic events. Once the symptoms have lessened, therapists guide patients to establish a new system to handle future situations. This is the reprocessing aspect of EDMR.
Let’s say a patient has unresolved trauma due to being bullied for their weight. They might recall being laughed at or mocked. These memories can incite the same emotions of shame and guilt they felt in the past in the present. Hearing laughter might trigger shame and guilt because the information of their memory is translating to, “If they’re laughing, it’s because they’re making fun of me.”
The therapist may first use bilateral stimulation as the patient recalls these moments to lessen negative emotions and feelings. Once the patient feels less stressed, the patient can gauge the current situation that triggered past responses and guide patients to visit other explanations as to why people may be laughing.
The point of this practice is to acknowledge that memories can be reprocessed with new narratives that promote positive emotions and feelings of self.
Who can benefit from EMDR?
Since EMDR and API work with unprocessed memories, patients who have PTSD or experience symptoms of PTSD may benefit from this type of therapy.
Here are some examples of who can benefit from EMDR.
EMDR can help people who have experienced traumatic events throughout their military careers. They may feel they could have done more for their fellow fallen comrades or experience survivor’s guilt. In some cases, service people may experience thoughts of suicide. Therapists can help military personnel by minimizing symptoms associated with PTSD.
Survivors of Sexual Violence
It’s a tragic reality that sexual violence is not only prevalent but often goes unreported for fear of retribution or judgment. Rape Crisis centers have advocated for EMDR as an effective treatment for sexual violence survivors. Therapists using EMDR can provide a safe space for survivors to process their assault without judgment.
First-Responders, Police, Firefighters
Rapid Eye Movement treatment can help first responders exposed to life-threatening situations as part of their occupation. Brushes with death, severe injuries, and witnessing an extreme act of violence are all examples of traumatic situations that may benefit from EMDR.
Racial trauma from hate crimes, ethnic discrimination, and racism are particularly pervasive because they can happen so often without being addressed. Due to its polarizing effect, these events can unravel into anxiety, anger, depression, and suicidal thoughts. EMDR can help to address trauma from race-based traumatic stress in a safe environment.
Children with Trauma
Children exposed to trauma may not have the words to describe what happened to them. This inability to speak about their past may show up later in life as acting out to get attention, withdrawing from people, or recreating the trauma. Some children may experience nightmares or develop low self-esteem. EMDR can help children process traumatic events more palpably.
Anyone who has experienced the following symptoms:
- Panic Attacks
- Social Anxiety
- Eating Disorders
People may feel the same symptoms of PTSD but don’t fit the requisites of being diagnosed with PTSD. However, trauma is not limited to people who experience ‘Criterion A’ situations. These are traumatic events that are most closely associated with PTSD. Examples of these are car accidents, loss of a loved one, extreme violence, or witnessing trauma firsthand.
Some people may experience these symptoms during more innocuous situations, such as a bad break-up, microaggressions at work, or phobias. EMDR can decrease symptoms and help patients to establish new templates for the present and future.
While being a relatively new form of psychotherapy, EMDR has shown significant success in helping patients with unresolved trauma.
We hope you enjoyed this post in collaboration with BetterHelp.
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Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health-related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.