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How to Support a Loved One Going Through EMDR

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When someone you care about undergoes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, it’s natural to want to help but not always know how. EMDR is a powerful psychotherapy technique primarily used to treat trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Understanding what your loved one is going through and knowing the best ways to support them can make a significant difference in their healing journey.

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR therapy is designed to alleviate the stress associated with traumatic memories. Through a structured approach that includes guided eye movements, tapping, or other forms of rhythmic, left-right stimulation, EMDR helps the brain reprocess traumatic memories, reducing their psychological impact.

How Does EMDR Work?

During EMDR sessions, I guide my patients to briefly focus on the trauma memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation (typically eye movements). This process is believed to aid the brain's information processing system to naturally move toward mental health by removing blocks or imbalances caused by trauma.

Understanding the EMDR Process

To adequately support someone undergoing EMDR, it's helpful to understand the phases of the therapy:

  1. History and Treatment Planning: The therapist assesses the patient’s history and decides which memories to target.
  2. Preparation: The therapist ensures the patient has various coping mechanisms to handle emotional distress.
  3. Assessment: Used to identify the vivid visual image related to the memory, a negative belief about self, related emotions and body sensations.
  4. Desensitization: Focuses on the memory while engaging in EMDR processing.
  5. Installation: Strengthens positive beliefs.
  6. Body Scan: Checks for residual somatic response.
  7. Closure: Brings the patient back to equilibrium.
  8. Reevaluation: Assesses the patient's progress and plans future sessions.

Practical Tips for Supporting Your Loved One

Be Patient and Encouraging

Listen Without Judgment

Your loved one may have varying emotional responses after EMDR sessions — ranging from relief to increased distress (due to memory processing). Be a calm presence, willing to listen and offer comfort without pushing them to reveal more than they wish to share.

Encourage but Don’t Pressure

Encourage your loved one to talk about their experiences and feelings, but recognize when they might not be ready to share. Pressuring them can lead to withdrawal and could impede the therapeutic process.

Understand and Respect the Process

Learn About EMDR

Having a basic understanding of what EMDR involves can help you empathize with what your loved one is going through. This knowledge can prepare you for their potential fluctuations in mood and behavior.

Respect Their Need for Space

There might be times when your loved one needs space after therapy sessions. Respect their need for solitude or quiet, understanding that this time is crucial for their recovery.

Create a Supportive Environment

Maintain Routine and Normalcy

Helping to keep the rest of your loved one’s life as normal as possible can aid their recovery. Stable routines can provide a sense of security amidst the challenging emotions that therapy might bring up.

Offer Physical Comfort

Simple acts of physical comfort like hugs, if acceptable to your loved one, can be very reassuring. Similarly, ensuring comfort at home with things like soft lighting or quiet music can help create a safe space.

Encourage Additional Support

Suggest Additional Resources

If your loved one is struggling, suggest additional support resources like support groups or speaking to their therapist about additional coping strategies. This can help them feel less isolated and more empowered in their recovery process.

Stay Involved

Attend appointments if your loved one wants you to. Being there physically can show your support and give you insights into how best to help them.

When to Seek Further Help

If you notice your loved one struggling significantly, such as displaying extreme changes in behavior or mood that don't improve, encourage them to discuss these changes with their therapist. It’s important for the therapist to know these details to adjust the treatment plan accordingly.

Supporting a loved one through EMDR therapy requires patience, understanding, and a willingness to be part of their healing process. By providing a supportive and encouraging environment, you can play a pivotal role in their recovery.

If someone you care about is struggling with trauma and you believe they could benefit from EMDR therapy, consider introduce them to Realms of Life Counseling. I am dedicated to supporting individuals on their journey to recovery. 

Remember, your support can make a monumental difference in your loved one's therapy experience. Together, we can help them move toward a healthier, more hopeful future.