Updated: Apr 16
EMDR Versus Other Trauma Treatments
Are you unsure what will help you with your trauma? Many people feel lost when it comes to choosing a trauma treatment. Or, they may have had bad experiences with therapy in the past.
One particular type of treatment, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), is an effective and unique approach. It’s helped many people in recovery to find relief and return to a happier life. Is it right for you? Here’s a look at how EMDR compares to other types of trauma therapy.
Similarities of EMDR and Other Treatments
There are a handful of trauma-focused treatments that experts commonly recommend for adults. These include two types of exposure-related cognitive therapies, as well as EMDR. The other recommended therapies include prolonged exposure (PE) and cognitive processing therapy (CPT).
All three therapies are considered evidence-based, which means multiple studies have found them to be effective for trauma and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Like other recommended therapies, EMDR helps you process memories that are continuing to impact you. Through resolving unprocessed trauma, and changing negative thoughts, you can heal your symptoms.
While there are many similarities with EMDR and other popular trauma treatments, there are also some key differences. Here’s a look at those.
EMDR Embraces Body and Mind
Unlike cognitive therapies, EMDR was developed with body and brain equally in mind. For example, as the treatment progresses, your therapist will prompt you to be mindful of your physical sensations.
These elements have been added as a part of cognitive therapies as well, but many perceive that they are not as integrated throughout the therapy. In CPT and PE, you mainly focus on your thoughts and beliefs about yourself and your trauma. There may be less focus on how your emotions present in the body.
With EMDR, you’ll also be purposefully activating as much of your brain as you can during the sessions. This is formally referred to as bilateral stimulation. Some find that this makes the processing work even faster.
The developer of EMDR discovered that bilateral stimulation helped her resolve difficult feelings and memories. This is a key part of EMDR that makes it stand out from other therapies.
You may have seen or heard of the alternating flashing lights sometimes used in EMDR. There are other ways to activate your brain as well. Some therapists use the butterfly hug method. It’s kind of like giving yourself a bear hug while you’re in therapy.
EMDR Stresses Calming Techniques
EMDR also includes specific tools that help you to cope with strong emotions, both inside and outside of sessions. Calming techniques used in EMDR might include the following:
The safe place visualization, which helps you feel safe and secure
The container exercise, which allows you to put structure around your memories
Integrated breaks during processing, for if you feel overwhelmed or begin to dissociate
Your therapist will guide you through these exercises, as well as others. Your comfort, healing, and safety are all priorities.
EMDR May Feel More Gradual
EMDR is a full therapy that allows you to deal with a lot of feelings and content. And, you may feel benefits within a few sessions. Yet, many people perceive it as a more gradual, easier technique, as compared to other therapies.
Rather than writing or talking about your memories, or intensely attacking them during outside homework, you approach them in a safe space with your therapist.
EMDR prompts you to deal with some difficult topics, so it isn’t always easy. However, your therapist will be trained in helping you deal with any intense feelings that come up.
You Don’t Have to Retell Your Trauma
The processing in EMDR works inside your brain and body, as your therapist guides you to use your own internal resources. While you can share detailed accounts of your if you want, you don’t have to.
In other trauma therapies, you may be asked to talk about your trauma multiple times. For example, in PE, you repeat the trauma story in session, over several weeks. In CPT, you may be asked to write about and read your trauma story to your therapist.
In EMDR therapy, you will instead think about your memories, while being supported by your therapist. This process will help you work towards resolving your past trauma. This can be particularly helpful for those who have problems verbalizing what happened.
Other therapies for trauma are very targeted. They often follow a weekly protocol, with specific homework assignments and goals to cover. These are focused specifically on trauma symptoms.
While EMDR also addresses trauma, it can be used for overlapping (or entirely different) issues as well. It can help with depression symptoms, as well as anxiety, which commonly occur with trauma. An EMDR session can stay targeted on your goals, or it can flow with your needs in the moment.
You Can Address Complex and Developmental Trauma
Other trauma treatments were primarily developed to address the specific symptoms of PTSD. However, not everyone with trauma has PTSD. Many people suffer from occasional emotional flashbacks, or negative memories of their childhood that interfere with relationships. They might have also had these previous symptoms prior to developing PTSD. EMDR is versatile enough to address all of these symptoms.
There are many options when it comes to getting help for past trauma. Fortunately, there’s been quite a bit of work over the years to better understand and treat these issues. EMDR offers a unique approach, integrating your body and mind, to help you recover. It’s helped many of our clients heal their past, while opening up the present and future. Contact us today to learn more about EMDR, and if it’s right for you.
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Author: Catalyss Counseling