Young Adult Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment Centers

What Is EMDR Therapy
and How Does It Work?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR Therapy) is an evidence-based approach to treating trauma and PTSD, as well as a wide range of other mental health issues. In EMDR, clients perform specific eye movements, guided by a credentialed EMDR therapist, while focusing on traumatic and/or emotionally charged memories. Researchers believe that EMDR works by engaging similar brain mechanisms as those involved in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

When to Seek Help

If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health symptoms and feeling sad, hopeless, and unable to function in daily life, it’s essential to seek help as soon as possible, ideally in a treatment program tailored for young adults and their specific needs during this phase of life. A treatment plan for young people struggling with trauma, depression, anxiety, grief, relational issues, low self-esteem, substance abuse, and other mood and co-occurring disorders may include EMDR in tandem with other scientifically validated modalities.  

Know the Facts

A meta-analysis of 26 randomized controlled trials confirmed that EMDR therapy significantly reduces the symptoms of PTSD, depression, anxiety, and distress.

What is EMDR Therapy?

Developed in the 1980s by psychologist and educator Francine Shapiro, EMDR is designed to heal the emotional distress resulting from traumatic memories, as well as co-occurring disorders resulting from trauma. This scientifically validated approach has helped millions of people find relief from trauma-related mental health issues.

Along with treating trauma and PTSD, EMDR therapy has been shown to be effective over time in reducing symptoms of the following conditions, among others:

  • Panic attacks
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Phobias
  • Stress caused by chronic disease
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance abuse
  • Anxiety.

Organizations that endorse the use of EMDR trauma therapy include the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Defense, among others. Read on to learn more details that help answer the questions of what is EMDR therapy and how does it work.

What to Expect

In EMDR therapy, the client focuses on a troubling image or negative thought while simultaneously moving their eyes back and forth. To prompt this eye moment, EMDR practitioners might move their fingers from side to side, tap their hand from side to side, or wave a wand. The client moves their eyes back and forth to follow the prompt. During this processing, the client notices whatever thoughts, feelings, images, memories, or sensations might arise. The eye movements prompt the brain to make associations and neural connections that help integrate the disturbing memories. Eventually, the distress associated with the memory dissolves.

What to Expect in EMDR Trauma Therapy

An EMDR therapy session involves an eight-phase treatment process, including:

  1. History taking and treatment planning
  2. Preparation—clients learn resources and coping skills that are useful both during and outside of therapy sessions
  3. Assessment—identifying negative memories and positive replacements for them
  4. Desensitization—the eye movement technique is repeated until a particular memory is no longer distressing
  5. Installation—the client focuses on positive emotions and beliefs to replace those created by the trauma
  6. Body scan to assess sensations and tension to determine whether the trauma has been processed
  7. Closure—the EMDR therapist assists the client in using a variety of self-calming techniques
  8. Reevaluation—the client and practitioner examine the progress made and determine which targets to address next.

The number of sessions required varies according to the client’s needs and history. In general, several sessions are necessary to treat trauma and other mental health issues using EMDR therapy. When EMDR is used to treat PTSD, the age of the client at onset and the number of times they experienced traumatic events or incidents determine how long they will need to be in EMDR trauma therapy. According to some experts, clients with a single incident of trauma, such as a one-time assault or accident, may need only five hours to integrate the event. People who have experienced childhood trauma or multiple incidents of trauma may require a longer treatment time. A study funded by Kaiser Permanente found that 100 percent of single-trauma victims and 77 percent of multiple-trauma victims participating were no longer diagnosable with PTSD after only six 50-minute sessions.

By focusing in on a target memory and negative cognition, clients are able to use EMDR get to the root of where it all began, and process memories so they become less disturbing and more adaptive. The client’s brain leads the way with minimal interference from the therapist, which is very empowering for young adults.

Olivia Lynch, MS, LPC
EMDR Program Training and Development Manager
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Care at Newport Institute

Overall, EMDR research validates this technique as a powerful tool for processing and healing trauma, and an effective modality in supporting young adult mental health. Consequently, our staff is trained in EMDR techniques, and treatment plans for many clients at Newport Institute integrate this modality. EMDR can be particularly helpful for young adults who respond better to somatic (body-based) approaches than to traditional talk therapy.

Newport Institute’s clinical model of care includes EMDR as part of a wide variety of clinical, experiential, and academic/life skills modalities. Contact us today to find out how we guide young adults toward flourishing, autonomy, and authentic connection with self, others, and their larger community.

Newport Institute

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