How many people do you know who’ve been struggling with depression? If you’re like most people, chances are that you know a few people who find it hard to regulate their mood, or experience sadness, apathy or other depressive symptoms. Or maybe you’re that person who has to deal with a depressive period in your life.
The truth is that the prevalence of mood disorders around the world is rapidly increasing. In fact, nowadays more than 5% of adults in the US population are diagnosed with depression. Unfortunately, traditional methods of dealing with this mental health disorder don’t always have the long-term effectiveness many seek. Recent research into utilizing EMDR therapy (alongside talk therapy) for depression has proven to be effective in the short-term and long-term.
EMDR therapy is a highly effective way to treat depression by targeting the underlying symptoms of this condition. This technique combines various counseling approaches in order to lead to the desired effect quickly and efficiently.
In this article, we’ll discuss what EMDR therapy is, how it can help you overcome depression, and why it’s considered a revolutionary method in the modern counseling industry.
What is EMDR Therapy?
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR therapy, is a neurobiological counseling technique that targets traumatic experiences, childhood memories, negative patterns or themes, and certain beliefs and emotions that trigger different types of mental health problems. The main purpose of EMDR therapy is to return the body to its natural condition and restore homeostasis by relieving the symptoms of mental health disorders. Considering this, EMDR therapy has mainly been used with trauma-related conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
However, recent studies show that it’s also effective to reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorders, psychosis, and depression (Scellnes & Bulnes, 2021). One of the reasons why this integrative, evidence-based type of psychotherapy is found to be more effective for depression than traditional counseling methods is that it incorporates elements and methods of different treatment approaches.
The basic idea of EMDR therapy is that dealing with trauma, painful memories, and adversaries is only possible if one processes them completely. That’s why therapists who use the EMDR technique focus on helping clients process their negative experiences by triggering these memories and making sure that a client is able to move through an internal resolution by properly “reprocessing” these memories until they don’t have the symptoms associated with them. This process happens by using a series of bilateral eye movements (or stimulation) while recalling specific traumatic memories until they no longer cause negative emotions and distress. In fact, eventually, many people are able to change their personal narrative and idea of safety in the world to a way that works for them in their present day-to-day life.
How it works
Unlike traditional methods to treat depression and other psychological issues, EMDR therapy might seem a bit unusual. In fact, the process of EMDR therapy doesn’t involve speaking about your problems or treating them with medications. Instead, EMDR counselors start out by focusing on key moments from one’s life and pairing the therapy with the patient’s eye movements or other forms of stimulation on the nervous system. Although it might sound a bit confusing at a first glance, here’s how EMDR therapy actually works:
- Your therapist will ask you questions about your problems. They will identify your symptoms and get to know your health history in order to develop anamnesis. During the evaluation process, you’ll briefly talk about your trauma and past memories too.
- You will learn a few different techniques that can help you cope with maladaptive emotional states and distress. For instance, your therapist might explain relaxation or breathing techniques.
- The next step is to pick a specific memory (or pattern/theme in your life) that you’re going to target through the process of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Your therapist will help you choose a memory that is related to your problem.
- And the fourth phase is when the EMDR technique comes into play. The process of desensitization includes focusing on negative memories or trauma while being exposed to bilateral stimulation (BLS) and making particular eye movements (or using other forms of this that don’t involve the eyes).
By focusing on this traumatic memory, your body and nervous system will naturally release your negative thoughts and emotions and reprocess the trauma. After this process, you’ll replace these negative thoughts with a positive self-image and learn efficient coping methods to deal with your bad emotions. While it sounds like other therapies, it is very very different–because if done properly, most patients find the process life-changing–in that, they don’t have to work to think differently–they just think differently now.
- Finally, you’ll re-evaluate your negative experience. If these memories still cause distress, you might have to undergo the process of EMDR once again until you overcome those disturbing symptoms.
The entire session of EMDR therapy lasts about 60-90 minutes, and usually, the treatment consists of 6–12 sessions in total. For people with complex histories it can take a year or more. For other people, they may want to participate in talk-therapy for a while, and intersperse EMDR therapy within their therapy process for 6-12 months. However, many people have gotten amazing results in just 6-12 sessions of EMDR therapy.
EMDR Therapy & Depression – Revolutionary Method in Counseling
Considering the fact that EMDR therapy has helped millions of people overcome different types of psychological problems, nowadays it’s considered one of the most revolutionary methods in counseling. Even though eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy was developed to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related psychological problems, an increasing body of research proves its effectiveness for depression as well (e.g., Dominguez et al., 2021).
Nevertheless, sometimes people doubt that EMDR can be beneficial for depression since its main target is treating trauma. However, EMDR significantly reduces depression symptoms, and here’s why:
Usually, depression can develop for plenty of reasons, such as genetics, family history, environmental factors, physical health conditions, challenges, or nutrition. However, this mental health condition is also related to life experiences. For instance, depression can develop due to experiencing violence or loss. And people perceive these experiences as trauma.
Therefore, depression can develop as a result of trauma. And identifying and treating underlying causes is very important during therapy in order to fully overcome the psychological issue. This means that if EMDR Therapy can help people deal with PTSD (Shapiro, 2014), it can also be effective for depression that results from traumatic experiences.
EMDR Therapy helps people who struggle with depression to reframe their negative thoughts, replace them with a sense of self-worth, and resolve unprocessed adverse experiences. It may sound odd, but if a client is willing to “go through the process” of EMDR Therapy, less coping skills and extra things will be needed outside of sessions.
How Effective is EMDR Therapy for Depression?
Recent studies have repeatedly proven the effectiveness of EMDR therapy for depression and other mood disorders. For example, a 2017 study published in Psychology and Psychotherapy proves that MEDR can be an effective treatment for depression in the long term (Wood et al., 2018). As a result, the authors recommend using the EMDR approach if traditional types of counseling, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), fail to help the client deal with depression. Besides, this type of therapy is especially helpful for people who have a history of trauma.
A meta-analysis of EMDR for depression also proves the benefits of this therapy for improving symptoms of depression. While this study has not revealed the longer-term effects of EMDR in treating depression, a 2021 study shows that EMDR therapy is effective not only for chronic depression but for major depressive disorder (MDD) as well.
As you can see, EMDR therapy turns out to be the scientifically proven method to deal with the symptoms of depression, reprocess your negative experiences, and turn them into a positive attitude towards yourself and your life.
Nevertheless, it’s not always easy to start mental health treatment even if depression symptoms interfere with your daily performance. But keep in mind that our qualified counselors at Health for Life Counseling in Grand Rapids, MI, and Ada, MI can help you sort out your goals and determine which therapy is most reasonable for your problem.
So, if you think that EMDR therapy seems like a beneficial way to overcome your condition, contact Health for Life Counseling’s professional EMDR therapists in the West Michigan area or talk to them online to overcome depression and improve your quality of life.