Why Does Moving Your Eyes Left To Right In EMDR Therapy Work?

If you’ve just started learning about EMDR therapy, you might wonder how and why moving your eyes from left to right can help heal trauma. EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a powerful therapeutic technique that was first developed to treat PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Today, it is used to treat many other trauma-related conditions. Let’s break down how and why this seemingly simple eye movement process works.

What Is EMDR Therapy?

Developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s, EMDR Therapy uses bilateral stimulation typically through guided eye movements to help you recall distressing memories. 

You might be curious about the science behind EMDR. The therapy relies on the brain’s natural ability to process and integrate information. During traumatic events, this processing can become stuck or improperly integrated, which causes symptoms of PTSD. 

Bilateral stimulation, such as moving your eyes left to right, seems to help the brain reprocess these stuck memories. It mimics your eye movement during the REM stage of sleep, which is also the phase where most of our emotional processing and memory consolidation occurs. 

Why Does Moving Your Eyes Help?

Here are a few reasons why moving your eyes left to right help: 

  • Dual Attention Stimulus: Eye movements create a dual attention stimulus, so you must focus on the traumatic memory and the external movement. It softens the intensity of your emotional response.
  • Working Memory: Bilateral stimulation taxes your working memory, making it harder for you to maintain the vividness and emotional intensity of the traumatic memory.
  • Neurobiological Effects: Some studies suggest that bilateral stimulation can cause changes in brain activity, particularly in areas involved in emotional regulation and memory processing.
a therapist taking to a girl lying on the couch

How Does EMDR Therapy Work? 

During an EMDR session, your therapist will ask you to focus on a traumatic memory while following their fingers. This therapy also works just as well when done virtually. Your therapist will use a software to guide your eye movement. It involves eight phases: 

  • History Taking: Your therapist gathers detailed information about your history and identifies target memories for treatment.
  • Preparation: You learn about EMDR and practice techniques to manage emotional distress.
  • Assessment: to identify specific aspects of the target memory to process.
  • Desensitization: You focus on the memory while engaging in bilateral stimulation, which helps reduce the distress associated with it.
  • Installation: Strengthen positive beliefs about yourself and replace the negative beliefs associated with the trauma.
  • Body Scan: You focus on physical sensations to identify and address any residual distress.
  • Closure: Each session ends with stabilization techniques to make sure you leave feeling safe and grounded. 
  • Reevaluation: In following sessions, your therapist assesses your progress and determines if further processing is needed.

EMDR therapy is usually short-term with one or two sessions every week lasting for about 6 to 12 weeks. Your therapist will combine it with a couple more therapies or modalities for a more rounded approach. 

Don’t let trauma and anxiety hold you back. Schedule a free consultation today with Trauma Therapist Jennifer Pinto and begin your journey to recovery.

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