Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of psychotherapy used to treat or stop the development of disorders caused by trauma from experiencing distressing or negative events such as combat, rape, or death. The goal of inpatient EMDR treatment is to process stressful memories in order to reduce their influence and allow patients to create better, healthier coping mechanisms. The theory behind EMDR treatment presumes that when a person experiences a traumatic event, the associated memories and stimuli overwhelm normal coping strategies, causing them to be improperly processed and stored in an isolated “memory network.” The EMDR treatment attempts to remedy this by allowing the patient to correctly process the memory.
Inpatient EMDR treatment uses eight phases addressing the past, present, and future effects of a traumatic memory. In the first two phases, the patient and doctor discuss the patient’s history as well as the structure of the upcoming treatment. Poorly adaptive beliefs are identified and the patient chooses a “safe place” memory to return to when a session is particularly stressful. Phases three and four revolve around the patient identifying the negative memories and thought processes, focusing on them, and using positive memories and the “safe place” to help reduce the negative feelings associated with the traumatic event. The therapist gets the patient to follow a moving object with his or her eyes, and the patient describes thoughts and feelings that surface. In the final phases, the therapist checks for physical pain, stress, or discomfort that may have arisen during the treatment, debriefs the patient, and re-evaluates the week’s findings in order to adjust the plan of the next meeting accordingly.