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Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy exercises and techniques

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Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy exercises and techniques

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Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) draws from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), somatic therapy and other forms of psychotherapy. It combines talk therapy with guided eye movement exercises. It was originally developed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder; it involves recalling traumatic memories and the physical sensations that go along with it while the therapist moves an object (pen or their finger) in front of your eyes.

In theory, some traumatic memories are stored in the brain as sensory, not fact. So, this method prompts new neurological connections to that memory or event, reprogramming them in your brain.

EMDR typically involves these eight phases:

  1. History and planning: to begin, the therapist is looking to identify which memories or stressors are going to be addressed by evaluating your background and life’s experiences.

  2. Preparation: this involves building a strong relationship with your therapist, understanding the process and what’s involved, and perhaps building some other techniques to deal with anxiety and stress.

  3. Assessment: together, you and your therapist will identify the first memory to be targeted, including negative and positive beliefs about yourself and that memory, and identifying body sensations associated with that memory.
  1. Desensitization: this is when the stimulation begins with guided eye movements and could include other sensory techniques like auditory tones.
  1. Installation: in this phase, negative beliefs about the memory are addressed and challenged with the goal to replace them with positive beliefs.
  1. Body scan: you will recall the negative memory again and evaluate if there are still body sensations associated with it.
  1. Closure: the end of each session involves evaluating the day’s progress and discussing any homework, or to evaluate coping techniques. 
  1. Reevaluation: the beginning of each new session will involve reviewing the outcome of the previous one, and any new stressors that arose in between to set new goals and targets for treatment.

This is a relatively new therapy so more research is in demand by professionals in the field. This means there is new scientific and anecdotal evidence regularly coming available on its effectiveness. This modality recently hit the mainstream in the streaming docuseries The Me You Can’t See by Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry.

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