eNewsletter - April 2017

Behavioral Health Partners

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
by Michele L Petersmark, LCPC

Living with trauma can be an isolating, overwhelming, and frightening experience. You may avoid people, places, and activities that remind you of your trauma. 
Your sense of productivity and focus may also fail. You may find it hard to quiet your mind long enough to concentrate and stay present in your surroundings.
One effective treatment option for trauma survivors is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), created by psychologist Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. Through observation, Shapiro determined that eye movement reduces the intensity of a disturbing thought, thus reducing stress when eyes sweep back and forth. 

EMDR includes cognitive behavioral therapy elements, together with the bilateral movement of the eyes (Bartson & Corcoran, 2014). One notable element of EMDR is the dual stimulation whereby the one suffering from trauma thinks or talks about painful memories while still focusing the eyes on the therapist’s moving finger or any form of bilateral stimuli such as alternating hand taps.

When we outline at how EMDR therapy works, it is important to review trauma principles. During a traumatic event, the strong emotions that are produced disrupt the individual’s ability to digest the experience. Remembering the traumatic occasion makes the person feel like he or she is reliving the event all over again. Activating these memories causes a negative effect on the daily functioning of the affected individual, thus interfering with how one perceives the world. 

EDMR therapy helps to unfreeze the traumatic memories as it directly affects the brain. Rapid eye movements help in relieving the anxiety associated with the trauma, enabling one to access ways of reprocessing the trauma, thereby releasing the body from the negative emotional charges through desensitization (Bartson & Corcoran, 2014). 
In other terms, EMDR can also be referred as the psychological therapy that enables an individual to see a traumatic event in a new and less distressing perspective. The process also helps in cognitive reorganization, which replaces painful emotions with resolved and empowered feelings.

EMDR has an eight phase process to ensure beneficial and lasting results. The first phase includes history and planning of the treatment. The therapist takes initial client notes to help him or her develop a treatment plan. 

The second phase is preparation whereby the therapist teaches the patient self-care techniques to assist the patient in handling strong emotions that arise during therapy sessions. In the third stage, which is assessment stage, a patient clarifies the visual image of the trauma. The patient also identifies a negative and positive belief associated with the traumatic event (Bartson & Corcoran, 2014). 

Other phases include desensitization, installation, body scan, closure, and reevaluation. Phases 4 to 6 involve processing of the trauma. The therapist helps a patient recall the target image, accompanied by rapid eye movements. 

The split attention between the internal image and the external stimuli, which is the therapist's moving finger, enables the patient to experience distressing memory, helping him or her to reframe and process the trauma. Closure occurs when a patient attains an emotional equilibrium while reevaluation helps the therapist to decide use new or revisit old targets to help in extra reprocessing.

EMDR does have some shortcomings, which include ineffectiveness in the treatment of panic or stress disorders. It is also ineffective for those who have eye problems.  However, EMDR has some definite benefits over other therapies. 

One, it does not go into detail regarding the trauma. It is capable of understanding the origin of a problem since it works on mind, body, and emotions simultaneously. It is also beneficial since the re-experienced trauma is short-lived (Bartson & Corcoran, 2014). 

EMDR is an innovative therapy for trauma patients and their treatment professionals.  If you are looking for more general information on EMDR and/or trainings or workshops, the EMDR Institute is a great resource for clinicians. 

  • Bartson, s., & Corcoran, C. (2014). EMDR Therapy: A Guide to Making an Informed Choice. EMDR Therapy A Guide to Making an Informed Choice. Retrieved from http://www.anapsys.co.uk/emdr.pdf
Michele L Petersmark, LCPC

Michele is dedicated to helping individuals find empowerment through counseling. She uses an eclectic approach to therapy and employs a wide range of therapeutic techniques (i.e. DBT, CBT, goal setting and family systems). Michele believes therapy works best when it is tailored to the individual needs of each client. She believes in building on a client’s strengths for a healthier quality of life. Michele provides therapeutic services to children, adolescents and adults including the older adult population. She has an extensive background working with depression, mood disorders, trauma, self-injury, eating disorders, grief issues, and life transitions. Michele also works with military patients and their families. She is excited to meet new patients while providing a safe and trusting environment.