How do you know that EMDR therapy has worked?
EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a type of therapy that is often used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions where people experience flashbacks, intrusive memories and intense emotions connected to experiences they have had in the past.
My clients often ask me how will they know that EMDR is working, what will they notice and how is it going to help them with the struggles they have, so I thought I would put together some of the changes and signs that indicate that EMDR is working:
- Your flashbacks, intrusive memories and nightmares decrease in frequency, as well as the intensity of the emotion you experience when you think of the difficult memory.
- The images, thoughts and feelings that were initially sudden and overwhelming become less clear and vivid, less intense and may seem less threatening or distressing. You may also notice some positive thoughts about yourself, how you dealt with the situation and how you can deal with challenges in the future. Depending on the nature of the situation, some people may even see a funny side to their experience.
- Feeling more in control: as the difficult memories do not pop into your head uninvited as frequently and intensely as before, you are likely to feel more in control of your emotions, less helpless about the memories and distress coming up. And as a result of this, you may find that you are better able to manage stress in general.
- You may notice that things that you did not feel confident to do or were too scared to do seem more manageable. You may also feel inspired to take on new hobbies or engage in new activities that seemed unachievable before.
- Your relationships with others may improve: EMDR turns maladaptive and unhelpful dynamics into healthier one, whatever the emotion that is driving those dynamics. For example, if you are angry at someone, the anger may decrease; if you are worried about losing someone, you may notice that your confidence improves and can relate to that person without that constant worry; and if someone is trying to manipulate or gaslight you, you may start noticing the signs earlier and have the confidence to not engage in this dynamic.
- Learning when a feeling is an old feeling: EMDR can help you to see how common situations may have contributed to beliefs that are affecting your life at present. For example, if you had to look after a younger sibling, you may develop a belief that you are responsible for others or you may feel frustrated when you have to do someone a favour. It is easier to respond to intense feelings when you understand where they are coming from.
- Feelings of confidence and resilience: By dealing with intense emotions that were making situations look threatening or overwhelming, other qualities come to the surface, such as confidence, tenacity, persistence, self-compassion and patience. Having these positive attributes more accessible on your mind is likely to help you feel more hopeful and optimistic about the future.
It’s important to note that everyone’s experience with EMDR therapy is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. However, in general life seems like less of a struggle, problems and obstacles may seem more manageable and you are likely to trust that you have the qualities to deal with whatever life throws at you.