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What are the Benefits of Receiving EMDR Therapy?

Updated: Apr 15


Close-up picture of an eye with a rainbow superimposed
EMDR therapy offers many benefits to your life. Photo: Harry Quan

You may have heard about EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy and wondered if it was the right treatment for what you’re experiencing. EMDR therapy has several potential benefits for individuals who have experienced trauma or other emotional distress. This post will cover the main benefits.


EMDR therapy works best for discrete events that have had a traumatic effect on you. Good examples include an auto accident, a betrayal in a relationship, or being bullied or harassed at work. Of course, it can also be helpful for physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in childhood or in close relationships.


I have used EMDR therapy to resolve grief when the loss is sudden and unexpected, because that usually causes traumatic shock. It can also be helpful in other types of grief, but the best results tend to come from these sudden, dramatic experiences. EMDR therapy is very adaptable to different situations, however. It is important to talk to your therapist about whether it’s the right fit for you.


EMDR therapy is not a quick fix

There is a misconception that EMDR therapy is a quick fix for traumatic memories. It is more thorough than a lot of forms of talk therapy because it is experiential as well as cognitive. EMDR therapy helps you change the way the traumatic incident is stored in your brain, a process called memory reconsolidation. Nonetheless, a secure, strong therapeutic relationship is still necessary before reprocessing the memories.


As an EMDR therapist, I still need to assess whether it is appropriate for you and whether you need additional skills and resources to manage strong feelings. I still need to take a thorough history and prepare you for the process. Don’t let this scare you – this is important for any good trauma therapy.


Dr. Judith Herman talked about three stages of trauma recovery. The first is education, stabilization, and establishing safety. That includes safety in the therapeutic relationship. The second stage is processing, remembering and mourning the trauma. This is what most people think who know a little bit about EMDR therapy.


However, without a safe relationship and adequate preparation, you can get emotionally flooded and come to distrust therapy as a whole. In the final stage, you search for meaning behind the suffering and learn how to reconnect with others with more appropriate boundaries and less defensiveness.


That said, here are some of the main benefits of EMDR therapy.


Reduced avoidance of reminders of the trauma

Reminders are sometimes called triggers. Because your traumatic memory may not have been stored completely and may be fragmented, you are more reactive to reminders of what happened to you. It is of the trauma, so you might engage in avoidance behaviors so you don’t have to reexperience it, or you remain hypervigilant to potential threats. EMDR can help reduce these behaviors by re-consolidating the memory and making it more emotionally neutral.


EMDR Therapy helps you feel empowered

EMDR empowers you to actively participate in your own healing process. As you work through traumatic memories and experience reduced distress, you may feel a greater sense of control and self-efficacy. This helps you expand your world.


For example, if an auto accident resulted in your having panic attacks, EMDR therapy can help you feel more comfortable getting behind the wheel again. When the traumatic memory is reconsolidated, you don’t have to guard against reexperiencing it because it feels more neutral. When it feels more neutral, you can go back to doing things that you avoided before.


Change your thinking about yourself and the world with EMDR therapy

EMDR aims to replace negative beliefs about yourself and the world. It also changes perceptions associated with traumatic experiences with more adaptive and positive beliefs. This can help you have improved self-esteem and a more balanced outlook on your life.

For example, if you grew up thinking of yourself as ugly or unlovable because you were told that by your caregivers or peers, receiving EMDR therapy can help you identify the negative belief and through reprocessing the memory, arrive at a more realistic and current self-concept.



Young white woman with tattoos and ear gauges in front of a wall covered by graffiti
Who you are today is perhaps nothing like how you were when you were traumatized.

Lasting benefits and results from EMDR therapy

Research suggests that the benefits of EMDR can be maintained over time. Individuals who undergo successful EMDR therapy may continue to experience reduced symptoms and improved well-being even after the therapy has ended.


This is probably good news to you, because who wants to keep reliving their trauma in therapy? While it’s not a quick fix, it is a thorough way to address traumatic memories, one that involves more than just your thoughts and emotions, but your body sensations as well.


Nonverbal aspects of trauma: Addressing stored trauma in the body

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, in his classic book, The Body Keeps the Score, addressed the fact traumatic memories are not just stored in the brain, but also in the rest of the body. Have you ever had a memory that made you sick to your stomach, sweaty, tense, or ready to hit someone? It could very well be that this memory is not completely in your body and mind. EMDR therapy helps you integrate all the different aspects of the memory as you reprocess it with bilateral stimulation.

 

Additionally, EMDR's focus on bilateral stimulation (such as eye movements) allows for non-verbal processing of traumatic memories. This can be especially beneficial if you struggle to express your feelings or experiences verbally.

 

EMDR therapy is integrative and holistic

EMDR therapy helps you integrate fragmented or dissociated memories, emotions, and sensations associated with trauma. This integration can lead feeling more coherent and whole within yourself. That way, you see yourself more accurately and realistically in the present. You no longer feel like a lost and defenseless child with no escape from the traumatic events. Instead, you can see and experience yourself as you are now, with more wisdom and resources than before.

 

If it sounds like you would benefit from EMDR therapy to resolve your trauma or loss experience, please give me a call at 661-233-6771.

 

 

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