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Using EMDR to Overcome Difficult Life Events

  September 06, 2017

By Kristen Leman, LCSW, Agape Counseling LTD

Everyone faces difficult life events; from the youngest child born pre-maturely to the elderly man who has big regrets in life. A lot of times, these difficult life events are dealt with and the person adapts and continues to live a life that is considered normal for that individual. However, there are also times that these difficult life events get us stuck and impact our ability to function. This impaired functioning may be something that is noticeable soon after the event, or it may not be recognized until years later. Either way, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can be useful in working through these difficulties.

EMDR is a widely used and accepted approach in psychotherapy today. Developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D, in 1987, EMDR was originally created to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). Since then, EMDR has evolved to treat many mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and even addictions. EMDR is a structured, eight-phase treatment that includes aspects of different theories, including psychodynamic, experiential, behavioral, cognitive, body-based, and systems theory. It helps survivors process through difficult life events — no matter how big or small — using side-to-side eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation.

An initial assessment is completed as the first phase of EMDR. Several factors are taken into consideration during this initial assessment, including physical health, emotional stability, ability to stay present, overall life stability, and timing/readiness.

The second phase is a preparation checklist, which is when the therapist presents to the client the logistics of doing EMDR. Phase two also incorporates resource management, in other words, helping the client identify an effective way to stabilize during or after reprocessing, as needed.

Phase three is when client and therapist really start to explore the issue and come up with a plan of treatment. Once a target incident is agreed upon between client and therapist, the therapist will help the client look at how significant the target feels presently. Negative and positive cognitions are identified, emotions are identified, and body sensations are all identified before moving into phase four, which is desensitization.

Often times, phase four is where most of a client’s treatment is spent. This is the part of treatment where eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation are used to reprocess the negative life events. The goal of this phase is to remove the disturbance from the target memory/incident.

Once the reprocessing is completed, it doesn’t mean that treatment is over. The therapist will then move into phase five, which is the installment of the positive cognition. Phase six involves a body scan for the purpose of identifying any residual body sensations associated with the target memory.

Phase seven is closure. It includes closure for an unfinished target session, as well as finishing a completed target session. A debriefing of the session is done with the client. This is also where the resources are used for client stabilization between sessions.

The last phase, phase eight, is actually a reevaluation. This is completed at the beginning of each subsequent session after reprocessing has been started. It determines client’s progress and any new associations or insights the client might have had before picking back up with the reprocessing.

In my seven years of using EMDR, it has consistently proven to be effective among my wide range of clientele. It’s been used with children all the way through the elderly, with individuals that have a one-time traumatic event to those experiencing chronic life stressors. At the end of treatment, almost all of these clients have reported freedom from the negative thoughts or memories they presented with.

EMDR has brought relief to many who have thought themselves stuck or beyond help — if you find yourself battling anxiety or maybe you have a constant negative belief about yourself. Perhaps you can’t seem to let go of a disturbing event that occurred or have intrusive thoughts or images that pop up at inconvenient times. Maybe you’ve even been in counseling for a period of time and feel like things aren’t improving. If you find yourself in any of these situations, then contacting a locally trained professional that practices EMDR could be the answer you’re looking for.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact Agape Counseling at 309-663-2229. They are a group of Christian counselors, social workers, psychologists, and support staff committed to a therapeutic process which ministers to the whole person. Their Bloomington office is located at 211 N. Veterans Parkway (next to Krispy Kreme). They also have offices in Peoria and Morton. Visit them online at
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September 06, 2017


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