Looking to begin therapy can be a daunting prospect.  Not only is there a lot of stigma around seeking support that can make it hard to make that initial request, there are so many different forms of therapies out there that it can be hard to know where to start.  At Dr. Amanda Bell and Associates, all of our therapists are trained in EMDR and are passionate about its potential as a powerful treatment strategy.  We hope that today’s post is helpful in further understanding this as it compares to more traditional psychotherapy.  

What is EMDR? 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a structured form of therapy developed by Francine Shapiro in 1989 where the patient focuses briefly on a memory that is causing distress, while at the same time experiencing some type of bi-lateral stimulation (eye movement, light, tapping, or hand held buzzers).  This is associated with the reduction in the intense emotions attached to the memory or of the strength of the memory itself.1 This form of therapy has been extensively researched and has proven to be an effective tool in helping people recover from trauma and reduction in PTSD symptoms.  This research is now extending to show positive clinical outcomes to treat a broad variety of mental health struggles including anxiety, depression, OCD, chronic pain, and more.  

Focus on Mind/Body Connection: 

While traditional psychotherapy relies a lot on talking, EMDR relies on the brain to heal itself with the guidance from the clinician.  In practice, this can have a lot of benefits for the client who may feel apprehensive about beginning therapy.  For one, it may mean a lot less talking from the client.  EMDR has the client focus briefly on the disturbing memory, and then notice what comes up in their body.  This allows a greater focus on the mind-body connection – paying attention to not just verbalizing thoughts and feelings, but connecting this to sensation and somatic experience. This is especially important as many of the mental health symptoms live in the body. 

As the brain processes the disturbing memory, the experience will still be remembered; however the trigger responses (such as fight/flight/freeze) connected with the original event can be resolved.  In focusing on the brain’s own process, the therapist can not only reduce the intensity of the disturbing memory, but help the client connect to positive resources, and in doing so, create new neural pathways for healing.

A Structured Session = Increased Safety:  

When Francine Shapiro created the EMDR model, she created a protocol that follows a structured set of steps to help contain the memory and allow a sense of safety for the client.  It is within these walls that the client can begin processing.  Opening up a painful memory can be a huge reason people avoid seeking help and beginning therapy, and knowing what to expect from the session and the containment the protocol allows can let the brain begin to open a memory in a way that feels manageable and safe.  

An Efficient Use of Resources: 

Another barrier to seeking help can be the financial commitment a course of therapy can present.  Not everyone has insurance benefits, and even when they do, they can be limited.  On top of this, the scheduling commitment of arranging a regular appointment in a busy schedule can be overwhelming.  EMDR gives the client an option to work on their goals in a way where things can be resolved in a timely way, which is not only efficient, but incredibly empowering.  Studies have shown that the positive therapeutic outcomes are “rapidly achieved without homework or detailed description of the disturbing event.”2

Connecting Past & Present = Reduction in Shame: 

EMDR relies on the client’s brain to make sense of past and present experiences and with the guidance of the therapist make connections – this can help frame present day problems in the context of past experiences.  When current day problems are viewed through this non-judgemental lens, change can happen.  Instead of feeling like “what’s wrong with me” or “why can’t I do ____”, one can begin to understand their behaviour and coping strategies in the context of the past.  The result is an enormous amount of empathy and a heaping dose of self-compassion.  Brene Brown stated in her viral TED talk on Shame: “If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgement. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.”3

Continued Benefits:

The clinical efficacy of EMDR therapy helps it stand out in comparison to other modalities and has been proven as an effective strategy in many research studies.  This has led to many leading organizations in healthcare, including the World Health Organization, American Psychiatric Association, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs, to recognize the effectiveness of EMDR therapy.4

A more recent study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health found that 8 sessions of EMDR therapy was superior when compared with 8 weeks of a drug-based treatment (fluoxetine) – it was superior not only for PTSD symptoms but also for symptoms of depression.  What is even more compelling is that when therapy ended, the EMDR group continued to show improvements, where as the drug-based treatment group participants who saw a reduction in symptoms became symptomatic again.5

As a group of clinicians who all use EMDR in our practice every day, it is hard not to be infectious about this treatment.  Seeing the research confirm what we witness only makes us more passionate for the work we do.  

If you are a therapist and are looking to add EMDR to your practice, we still have spots left in our Winter 2024 training – follow this link for more information: https://www.amandabell.ca/emdr-basic-training/

If you are looking for a therapist and think EMDR would be a good fit for you or your child, follow this link to begin the intake process: https://www.amandabell.ca/accessing-counseling/