EMDR Therapy For OCD: Can It Help Relieve Symptoms?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can take a toll on your self-esteem and self-confidence, finances, relationships, health and well-being, and opportunities in life. It is not easy to cope with and manage OCD symptoms day in and day out. Having an anxiety condition, like OCD, can be frustrating, confusing, depressing, and infuriating. You want to be like other people – other people who do not struggle with OCD, but it feels like an impossible task to accomplish.
The involuntary and unwanted, intrusive thoughts, urges, fears, doubts, emotions, and/or mental images (obsessions) and/or repetitive ritualistic behaviors (compulsions) can make you feel as if you are losing your mind. You are not. Regardless, it probably feels as if you will never have a normal life. That is where you are wrong.
Perhaps, you have tried conventional OCD treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and/or exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with and without medication (i.e., SSRIs, SNRIs, tricyclic antidepressants, antipsychotics, beta-blockers, antihistamines, etc.), but have been unable to garner success from them.
Maybe, you have even gone the natural route with yoga, deep breathing exercises, hypnosis, vitamin and mineral supplements, exercising, consuming healthy foods, and adopting healthy coping skills and strategies – to no avail. At this point, you are probably asking yourself, “What is next?” You have tried OCD therapies, natural remedies, and even medications, but have been unable to get a grip on your OCD symptoms. Well, if you are dealing with treatment-resistant OCD, it may be time to think outside of the box and try something new – something like EMDR.
Studies suggest that EMDR may be what you are looking for to help you get your OCD under control. And, guess what? EMDR can be combined with therapy, natural remedies and self-help tools, and medication, so it is versatile.
Wondering what EMDR is and how it can help reduce or eliminate your OCD symptoms? Keep reading, because in this article you will learn what EMDR is, who it is designed to help, and how effective it is in the treatment of OCD. This article will also help you determine if EMDR could be a viable treatment option for your type of OCD.
What is EMDR?
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a psychotherapy approach designed to help people heal from emotional distress (i.e., anxiety, OCD, PTSD, social anxiety, GAD, depression, etc.) caused by acute or chronic trauma. Researchers have found that EDMR can help people, who have been traumatized recover from trauma-related emotional pain. EDMR advocates believe that the mind can heal from an emotional injury (psychological trauma) similar to how the body can heal from a physical injury (physical trauma).
Say you fall and rupture your patella tendon (the tendon that connects your knee to your leg), well, your body will automatically try to heal the torn tendon (reconnect the torn pieces). If it is a partial tear or the two pieces are close together, there is a chance the tendon will grow back together on its own.
If something prevents the tendon from naturally healing, for example, the two pieces are too far apart or something is “blocking” the path of connection, like excess fluid, a broken bone, scar tissue, surgery may be required to remove whatever is delaying the healing process. Once the impediment is gone, the healing process resumes. EDMR therapy resembles this process.
EDMR therapy helps clear the “blockage” that is preventing healing from occurring. EDMR therapy usually focuses on emotional and trauma-based experiences, rather than physical-based (physical injuries).
EDMR advocates theorize that the brain is naturally-wired to try to “repair” one’s mental health. If something is “blocking” or preventing the brain from healing from trauma or emotional distress, the “emotional wound” can fester, causing extreme emotional pain. This pain can manifest as anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, etc.
Once the “emotional blockage” is removed, healing (from the trauma) restarts. Thus, with EMDR therapy, a person uses his or her natural healing properties to recover from the trauma. Because EDMR therapy has been heavily studied, it is considered the “gold standard” trauma treatment. Although EDMR therapy is primarily used to treat people, who have experienced trauma, it has also proven to be beneficial for people, who want to feel more empowered, and those, who want to work on their self-esteem and self-confidence.
EDMR therapy is also emerging as a promising OCD treatment, especially when the OCD stems from trauma. EDMR therapists believe that like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), most cases of OCD also stem from trauma. These trauma specialists believe that if a person can unearth the root cause of this trauma, his or her OCD symptoms will improve or disappear altogether.
What Conditions Could Benefit From EMDR?
As mentioned above, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has been extensively studied and proven to be an effective therapy for people, who are struggling with anxiety conditions like OCD and PTSD, or any condition that involves trauma.
EMDR therapy can also benefit people, who are dealing with chronic pain, among other mental health conditions and traumatic life events, such as:
- Panic Attacks
- Chronic Illnesses
- Bipolar Disorder
- Dissociative Conditions
- Eating Disorders
- Grief and Loss
- Emotional or Physical Distress
- Trauma-Related OCD
- Sexual Dysfunction (i.e., Performance Anxiety, Impotence, Erectile Dysfunction (ED), Premature Ejaculation (PE), Anovulation, etc.)
- Personality Disorders
- Sexual Assaults
- Domestic Violence
- Insomnia, Nightmares, or Night Terrors
- Substance Abuse or Addiction
- Physical Aggression and/or Rage
Does EMDR Affect the Brain?
Yes, it does!
The human brain can naturally “recover” from trauma (upsetting or life-altering memories, experiences, and events). This innate recovery occurs when the amygdala (the part of the brain that alerts the body of impending stress or danger), the hippocampus (the part of the brain involved in the learning process (i.e., memories involving safety and danger), and the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that regulates one’s emotions, and controls one’s behavior) communicate with each other.
Although, traumatic experiences can be managed and naturally resolved on their own (without therapy or medications), sometimes extra help is needed to “heal” from the life-altering event. EDMR therapy helps the brain process and remember upsetting, stressful, overwhelming, and traumatic events, but “removes” the fight, flight, or freeze reactions associated with these memories. Once these reactions are “removed” healing begins again.
What Happens During EMDR Sessions?
EMDR therapy uses a variety of approaches to boost the effects.
EMDR therapy focuses on three different targets – the past, present, and future. The treatment targets traumatic or disturbing memories and current situations that are causing distress. EMDR helps these individuals learn healthy coping skills and strategies that they can use when they start to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and/or anxious. EMDR accomplishes this task in 8 stages.
Stage 1 – The first stage involves intake session(s). During this stage, an EDMR therapist documents your physical and mental health background and assesses your “treatment readiness.” You, along with your therapist, identify possible areas that may benefit from EDMR therapy, such as traumatic memories, and/or current situations that are causing you emotional distress.
Once the therapist has a strong idea of what you want and need from the treatment process, he or she develops a customized treatment plan to address these requests. EDMR therapists help you develop specific skills and engage in certain behaviors that could help you deal with upsetting situations in the present and the future.
The initial EMDR therapy sessions may focus on childhood experiences, rather than adult stressors and experiences. The goal is to help you gain a deeper insight into what is “blocking” you from processing and healing from the trauma or distressing event(s). Once the trauma or distressing event(s) are resolved, you can start working on changing your behavior.
The number of EMDR sessions you will need depends on if you have had one or more traumatic experiences, and the age that you began having PTSD and/or OCD symptoms. Some adults, who have only experienced one traumatic event can be treated within 5 hours. However, if there is more than one traumatic experience, several EMDR sessions may be needed to eliminate the “blockage.”
Stage 2 – During this stage of EDMR treatment, the therapist will teach you several ways to cope with and manage your stress, anxiety, emotional distress, and OCD symptoms, such as visualization, mindfulness meditation, and stress-management techniques that you can use in-between EDMR sessions. One of the main goals of EDMR therapy is to trigger quick and effective changes in your thought processes and behavior while helping you remain at baseline or maintain a “balance” during and in between sessions.
Stages 3-6 – The goal of these stages is to identify and process a specific target using EMDR therapy methods.
More specifically, you will be instructed to do the following things:
- Visualize an experience or event linked to the upsetting memory.
- Recall a negative belief about yourself
- Pay attention to your emotions and bodily sensations when performing the previous two actions
After completing the three steps above, you will be instructed to recall a positive belief. Next, the EMDR therapist will help you “score” or “rate” this positive belief. He or she will also ask you to think about the negative emotions linked to a traumatic experience(s), and “score” and “rate” them as well. Afterward, you will be instructed to concentrate on the negative image(s), thought(s), and bodily sensations – while using stimulation sets (i.e., eye movement, taps, tones, etc.) to engage in EMDR processing.
You may be asked to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across your field of vision. Why? Well, according to researchers, this movement is connected to the biological processes involved in rapid eye movements (REM) sleep. EMDR triggers internal associations with the trauma, so you can start to process the upsetting memories and the accompanying negative emotions.
The length and type of the stimulation sets vary from person to person. You will be instructed to pay attention to what happens next (i.e., thoughts, feelings, images, memories, and/or bodily sensations). Depending on your assessments and observations, the therapist will determine the next set of stimulation. These sets may reoccur several times during the session. If you become emotionally distressed, and/or if you have a hard time processing the distressing event(s), the therapist will use various EDMR methods to help you get back on track.
If the targeted memory does not trigger emotional distress, you may be asked to think of the positive belief you identified at the beginning of the session. You will be instructed to focus on this positive belief during the next set of distressing events.
Stage 7 – This stage involves closure. During the seventh stage, the therapist will ask you to keep a weekly journal. Journal entries should describe (in detail) upsetting memories and traumatic experiences during that week (i.e., thoughts, feelings, images, fears, urges, doubts, worries, bodily sensations, presiding events, etc.). The goal of journaling is to help you turn to the self-calming exercises you learned in the second stage.
Stage 8 – The last stage involves evaluating your progress. You will determine how well you have processed historical events, current “triggering” experiences, and how likely you are to use different responses for possible future “distressing” situations. During this stage, the painful events are reframed. For instance, a person, who was abused as a child, shifts his perception of himself, from feeling unworthy, unlovable, and disgusting as a human being to seeing himself as strong, resilient, worthy, and lovable. Instead of seeing himself as a “victim,” he now considers himself to be a “survivor.”
Is EMDR Different Than Other Psychotherapies?
Yes, it is.
Unlike traditional psychotherapy, the deep insight you gain from EMDR therapy does not come from a therapist’s interpretation, rather it stems from your own emotional and intellectual growth and development. At the end of EMDR therapy, you should feel stronger and more empowered than before.
The goal is for you to use the experiences, memories, and emotions that used to bring you down – to strengthen you and confirm how strong and resilient you are. The hope is that by the end of EMDR therapy, your “emotional wounds” have not just closed, but transformed into something greater.
EMDR therapy also does not require that you talk in-depth about the traumatic event or distressing experience. It also does not require “homework.” Rather, this treatment focuses on transforming or altering how you view the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors associated with upsetting or traumatic events.
Once you can process these emotions, thoughts, and behaviors more positively, healing occurs. Thus, EMDR therapy is designed to help you process, understand, and acknowledge traumatic memories. Unlike traditional therapy approaches, EMDR therapy can be completed within a few sessions.
Can EMDR Help Ease OCD Symptoms?
According to researchers, EMDR can help ease OCD symptoms.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety condition that involves involuntary, unwanted, repetitive thoughts, mental images, worries, urges, negative emotions, doubts, etc., that can lead to compulsive behaviors (rituals and routines).
Although not always the case, sometimes the obsessions and/or compulsions stem from trauma. That is where EMDR therapy comes into play. OCD is fairly common impacting millions of people from around the world. Truthfully, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a lonely condition that can wreak havoc on a person’s life, happiness, and health and well-being.
Even though exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, a subtype of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is normally the “go-to” treatment for OCD, EMDR therapy is emerging as a viable alternative OCD treatment option. Because many OCD cases have a trauma-related component, EMDR is proving beneficial for OCD sufferers.
OCD can present after a traumatic event or distressing experience, so it makes sense that a treatment created to help PTSD sufferers could also help OCD sufferers. Researchers suggest that EMDR therapy reduces stress, anxiety, obsessions, and compulsions in people with post-traumatic OCD (i.e., soldiers).
Some studies suggest that combining EMDR therapy with ERP therapy or CBT yields the best results, primarily because ERP therapy and CBT focus on changing thought processes (i.e., fewer obsessions), in the hope that doing so will lead to a change in behavior (i.e., fewer compulsions). In the case of ERP therapy, this change stems from repeated exposure to the triggering memories.
After being exposed to the upsetting memory many times, you will become desensitized, so it no longer triggers your OCD. Another study found that when EMDR (alone) was compared to CBT (alone) there were no significant short-term or long-term differences between the treatment protocols, in regards to effectiveness. Although these studies do not explain exactly how EMDR reduces or eliminates OCD symptoms, the results are favorable. Thus, the consensus is that EMDR may be beneficial for OCD sufferers, who have a history of trauma.
The belief is that EMDR works the same way for OCD as it does for PTSD. EMDR affects how the brain processes and stores traumatic memories and upsetting experiences. Researchers suggest that there is a link between PTSD and OCD, which presumes that if one condition is treated, the other one will also improve. They also found that treatment-resistant OCD may benefit from a combination of CBT or ERP therapy and EMDR.
Is EMDR Offered Virtually for OCD?
Yes, it is.
As mentioned previously, studies suggest that EMDR can effectively treat both PTSD and OCD. More specifically, EMDR therapy appears to be beneficial for OCD sufferers with a history of trauma or those with a comorbid condition of OCD and PTSD. People with these conditions report improvement in both areas once one or both of them conditions have been treated with EMDR.
EMDR is typically conducted by a therapist, who has been thoroughly trained in EMDR practices, or an EMDR specialist when an EMDR therapist is unavailable. EMDR involves 8 stages that transcend just eye movements. Each session last approximately 90 minutes, although they can be shorter or longer than this time.
The good news is most EMDR techniques are self-administered. Virtual applications of EMDR are also available. Virtual EMDR programs, like VirtualEMDR, can provide OCD sufferers with audio and video content, instructions, and stimuli. VirtualEMDR is designed to mimic the EMDR methods and techniques used by in-office EMDR therapists.
In other words, VirtualEMDR uses the same tools, stages, and procedures as in-office EMDR therapists, which allows people with PTSD and/or OCD to participate in the therapy process from their “safe spaces” (i.e., in the comfort of their homes).
Virtual EMDR therapy programs offer accessibility, flexibility, and affordability to people suffering from post-traumatic OCD or OCD and PTSD. The result? A better quality of life. If you believe that your OCD stems from trauma, EMDR may be what you need to reclaim your life.
Can EMDR Be Combined with Other OCD Treatment Methods?
Yes, it can be combined with other OCD treatment methods.
OCD therapies, medications, natural remedies, and self-help tools, like hypnotherapy/hypnosis, CBD, yoga, journaling, mindfulness mediation, vitamins and minerals, healthy coping skills and strategies, stress-management exercises, and online OCD programs, like Impulse Therapy, can be combined with EMDR to garner the maximum results. Online OCD programs, like Impulse Therapy, can provide you with the tools, resources, support, and material that you need to effectively manage your post-traumatic OCD symptoms.
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