1. Helps Reduce Anxiety, Phobias & Distress
One of the reasons why EMDR therapy for anxiety can be effective is because it desensitizes people to the stress associated with negative memories and irrational fears. EMDR can help you gain a new perspective and be more aware of what you are perceiving as a threat. Once you can identify the types of things that are causing your anxiety, you can decide if they really are real threats or not.
The definition of desensitization is “A behavior modification technique, used especially in the treatment of phobias, in which panic or other undesirable emotional response to a given stimulus is reduced or extinguished, especially by repeated exposure to that stimulus”. In other words, desensitization refers to having decreased the ability to respond emotionally to something negative after being repeatedly exposed to it.
During EMDR therapy sessions, the patient brings to mind problematic thoughts/memories of the past so that they feel more comfortable in front of them. The more you do this, the easier it will be to deal with the emotions (such as anxiety) that are associated with negative thoughts. This is how the EMDR Institute describes this.
EMDR therapy facilitates the access and processing of traumatic memories and other adverse life experiences to bring them to an adaptive resolution. After a successful treatment with EMDR therapy, affective distress is relieved, negative beliefs are reformulated and physiological arousal is reduced.
According to an article published in The Atlantic, “Some experts believe that eye movements help to reorganize memories so that when they are stored again they lose part of their traumatic power.” Chris Lee, EMDR psychologist, and practitioner explained to The Atlantic that “People describe their memories becoming less vivid and distant, they seem more advanced in the past and more difficult to focus on.”
2. Used To Help Treat PTSD
One area where EMDR therapy has been widely studied is in the treatment of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). EMDR can help people who have experienced severe forms of trauma in childhood and adulthood. Trauma comes in many forms and can include everything from child abuse to the severe anxiety associated with military service.
A 2015 review found that EMDR therapy for patients with PTSD was more beneficial compared to other types of therapy in 7 of 10 included studies. In most studies, patients with PTSD had a more significant reduction in symptoms related to distress and stress (such as having less sweat on the skin) after EMDR therapy compared to other therapeutic approaches such as CBT. The same review found that 12 randomized studies that included rapid eye movement therapy found that patients experienced a rapid decrease in negative emotions and/or the intensity of disturbing images, and a variety of other positive effects of memory. The use of rapid eye movements for PTSD has also proven to be more useful than other external stimuli, such as beeps.
Another randomized controlled trial, which included 42 patients with PTSD after life-threatening cardiovascular events, compared eight sessions (four weeks) of EMDR therapy with imaginal exposure therapy (which involves “concentrating on the memory of the trauma and describing it in detail repeatedly” ). The study found that EMDR therapy resulted in greater reductions in symptoms related to trauma, depression, and anxiety compared to imaginal exposure therapy.
3. May Help Treat Obesity Tied to Traumatic Experiences
Emerging studies are showing that obese adults commonly deal with mental health problems that contribute to their excess weight, such as a history of childhood trauma, eating disorders or anxiety-depressive disorders. This is why psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, has been shown to be effective in helping to treat obesity and to control the weight on an ongoing basis. The psychotherapeutic approaches that are now used to help reverse obesity include hypnosis, mindfulness, family therapy and EMDR, especially when there is a post-traumatic stress disorder. In some studies, EMDR has been shown to better support the treatment of obesity than other therapeutic approaches when there is a history of traumatic stress.
4. Can Be Used in Treatment of Eating Disorders
It has been claimed that EMDR is effective in the treatment of a wide variety of psychiatric disorders, including eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Although EMDR is not often used alone to treat eating disorders, it seems beneficial when used in conjunction with other therapeutic and treatment approaches.
A randomized experimental study compared the effects of EMDR therapy and standard residential treatment of the eating disorder (SRT) versus SRT alone among 43 women with negative body image/body dissatisfaction. They found that women involved in SRT + EMDR reported less distress about negative memories of body image and less body dissatisfaction three months and 12 months after treatment compared to women involved in the only SRT.
5. May Help Reduce Panic Attacks & Other Stress-Induced Disorders
EMDR can help treat a variety of physical symptoms that are believed to be caused by unprocessed memories of adverse experiences. There are many symptoms and physical disorders induced by stress that are “medically inexplicable” but are linked to past negative experiences. For example, people can deal with panic attacks, insomnia, chronic pain, muscle tension, tension headaches and digestive problems, all due to the way chronic stress affects their bodies.
Studies have found that people who face stress symptoms due to life events such as losing a loved one or being victims of an accident can typically find relief within three to nine sessions of EMDR therapy. There is also evidence to suggest that EMDR therapy may be useful in reducing chronic pain and comorbid symptoms such as mood swings and depression when used as a complementary treatment.