How can EMDR therapy help in overcoming phobias?
EMDR therapy is a globally recognised treatment for helping overcome a vast range of mental health problems, with anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and phobias just being a few on the list. This treatment is accepted as effective by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to the World Health Organisation (WHO); its potent powers at helping people overcome phobias and other issues is astounding. EMDR stands for ‘Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing’ – don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds. Please keep reading to understand how EMDR works and how it can fight your phobias.
How does EMDR therapy work?
Our brains have their system of naturally recovering from trauma, and this process involves communication between the amygdala (the alarm signal for distressing events) and the hippocampus (how we learn safety from dangerous situations), and the prefrontal cortex (which analyses and controls our behaviours). However, whilst usually, our brain can develop its way of processing and coping with trauma, sometimes we need a little bit of extra help. If our brains do not receive that help, then phobias can arise from the trauma, as our brains’ freeze’ and cannot cope and formulate a response.
EMDR therapy helps the brain process these traumatic moments and fears, allowing the brain to heal normally and function as usual again. The experience of fear is still remembered and recognised; however, the brain’s fight, flight and freeze response is altered, and the phobia is resolved.
EMDR therapy consists of a series of treatment sessions to achieve an altered response to phobias.
Phase One: History and Treatment Planning
This phase takes place in 1-2 sessions and aims to identify the problem and talk about it with your therapist; this is continued throughout EMDR to tackle the same and new phobias as they arise. Your therapist will discuss the behaviours that stem from your phobia; then your therapist will design a treatment that will target:
- The past traumatic event which triggered the phobia
- The present situations that cause trauma
- The essential skills or behaviours the client must utilise for the future wellbeing
Phase Two: Preparation
This phase usually consists of 1-4 sessions; however, it could take more for extremely traumatised clients with extreme phobia. The primary focus of this stage is to establish a relationship of trust between the client and the therapist. This ensures the client accurately reports how they feel so that the treatment can be carried out effectively. Then, the therapist explains the procedure to create a more comforting environment.
Phase Three: Assessment
In this phase, the client will be asked to experience different emotions to reach a target by the therapist; this will not be the phobia you are being treated for! Instead, you will be asked to think of a negative memory wherein you imagine the phrases ‘I am worthless’ or ‘I am unhappy’. Then clients will be asked to think of a positive memory ‘I am safe’, ‘I am happy. The therapist will then ask the client how genuine your happy feelings are on a scale of 1-7; this is called the ‘validity of cognition (VOC) scale. The client also rates the negative emotions accompanying bodily reactions such as tightness in the chest and clenching hands, called the ‘subjective units of disturbance (SUD) scale.
The objective of EMDR is for the SUD scale to decrease whilst the VOC scale increases. This reprocessing technique usually lasts three sessions. Phases 1-3 lay the groundwork for successful EMDR therapy.
Phase Four: Desensitisation
This phase focuses on the client’s fear and disturbing emotions and is rated on the SUD scale; this phase deals with their response to their phobia. During desensitisation, the therapist leads the person in sets of eye movements, sounds, or taps with appropriate shifts and changes of focus until their SUD-scale levels are reduced to zero (or 1 or 2 if this is more appropriate). Then, starting with the main target, the different associations to the memory are followed. For instance, a person may begin with a traumatic event and soon have other associations with it. Finally, the therapist will guide the client to a complete resolution of the target.
Phase Five: Installation
Phase five aims to increase positive thoughts and associations to change their response to the phobia into a more positive reaction. During this phase, the phrase ‘I am now in control’ will be reinforced and installed. The goal is for the patient to understand fully that they are in control, and this is measured with the VOC scale aiming for a level 7 – entirely true.
Phase Six: Bodyscan
After positive reinforcement has been introduced, your therapist will bring up the traumatic event and note if there is any remaining tension in the body. If so, these physical sensations are retargeted, and a focus for reprocessing the response will be put in place. A session of EMDR will not be considered complete until the client can bring up the event without experiencing body tension.
Phase Seven: Closure
Closure ends every treatment session. Closure ensures that the person leaves at the end of each session feeling better than at the beginning.
Clients will not leave the session feeling stressed or physically uneasy; your therapist will use a series of self-calming techniques to establish a sense of equilibrium. Throughout the session, the client is made to feel in control; this sense of control must continue outside of sessions.
Phase Eight: Reevaluation
Reevaluation is how every session will begin. This phase guides the therapist through the treatment plan needed to achieve the client’s goal in recovery. This phase is essential at determining the success of treatment over the course of sessions. Although clients may feel improvements after just one session, it is important to complete the full course for the best results.
If you are consumed with phobias that may have a negative impact on your life, EMDR therapy can positively reinforce and change your brain’s response to the phobia so that you no longer are consumed with fear.
As a therapist, I am trained in EMDR therapy to help clients tackle several mental health problems to resume their day-to-day activities without suffering and mental pain. If you are interested in receiving EMDR therapy, please head to my website to book your consultation today, beginning your journey to recovery.