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People react to trauma in a variety of ways. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a common response to intense trauma, and it can be a struggle to overcome the resulting feelings of anxiety, fear and depression. Fortunately, there are many treatments that may help you overcome PTSD. EMDR is one of them.

What Is EMDR?

EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing and is a form of therapy that may help treat PTSD, anxiety, phobias and depression. This process originated in the late 1980s as an alternative to more traditional forms of therapy.

EMDR sessions typically last between 60 and 90 minutes and involve a series of steps. You begin by recalling and focusing on the traumatic event while the therapist moves their fingers back and forth in front of your face.

You dwell on the trauma while keeping your eyes fixed on the moving fingers for a number of eye movements, typically around twenty. After each round of eye movements, the therapist asks you to rate your feelings about the trauma on a scale from 0 to 10. This process of desensitization is repeated until your rating nears zero.

Once your rating of the trauma is reduced, the therapist will encourage you to focus on positive thoughts. You focus on those thoughts while the therapist resumes the finger movement, repeating the process until your rating of the positive thoughts increases.

The methods of desensitization and reprocessing are repeated for each additional feeling of trauma, discomfort or anxiety. Your therapist may recommend further exercises or ways of coping with symptoms that may return between sessions. You may require up to twelve sessions in order to reach the full potential of EMDR treatment, though some people report improvements after only a few sessions.

Some therapists have found that other sources of stimuli help the desensitization and reprocessing steps, including finger tapping, flashing lights or auditory tones. These methods may be used instead of rapid eye movement, depending on the comfort of the client.

Who Can Benefit from EMDR?

EMDR is recognized by both the Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran Affairs as a beneficial form of treatment for combat veterans who suffer from PTSD. Because EMDR treatment only requires visualization by the client rather than discussion with the therapist, EMDR can be effective for veterans who are unwilling or unable to discuss their trauma.

Others may also benefit from EMDR treatment, including those who have suffered other forms of trauma, phobias, anxiety or depression. It may help reduce a host of psychological issues such as panic attacks, nightmares, compulsions and eating disorders.

How Does It Help?

Like other forms of therapy, EMDR encourages you to engage your trauma, rather than ignore it. Once you have learned to face your trauma, you can begin building yourself up with positive thoughts and other cognitive processes that may help you.

In addition, the rapid eye movement, repetitive tapping or repeated tones may encourage your mind to allow access and sharing between the parts of your brain which contain traumatic memories and other, more productive memories. Much like the rapid eye movement of REM sleep, the repetitive nature of EMDR treatment may help your brain develop links between memories, allowing them to form permanent connections that help you understand and cope with your trauma.

EMDR treatment may help you overcome PTSD, anxiety, phobia or depression through a combination of engaging your past, accepting your present and looking toward your future.

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EMDR: Overcoming Trauma with Your Eyes
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