EMDR Therapy: Breaking Down the Barriers

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was originally discovered to work with clients who have a history of trauma and have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) however over the years it is becoming integrated into treatment for other disorders such as eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, complicated grief, panic disorder, dissociative disorders and many other disorders that have a trauma component associated with them. EMDR is a foreign concept to many individuals who have not entered treatment and this type of therapy is becoming more common in many treatment centers. EMDR is a specialized therapy that requires specific certification and licensing therefore not all therapists practice this type of therapy. Most reputable eating disorder centers have at least one therapist who is specialized in EMDR and can work with clients to uncover their traumatic triggers associated with their eating disorder.

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Risks & Complications

The medical complications associated with anorexia can be extensive and if left untreated, can be irreversible. Eating disorders affect every organ system in the body. Complications of anorexia include:

How does EMDR work?

Most individuals wonder what actually occurs in a typical EMDR session. There are eights phases of treatment and the initial one focuses on taking a thorough client history followed by a preparation stage. In the Rapid Eye Movement portion, the client focuses on a troubling memory and identifies the belief he has about himself connected to this negative memory (for example, in dealing with a rape, the person may believe “I am dirty”). The individual then formulates a positive belief that he would like to have about himself (“I am a worthwhile and good person in control of my life.”). All the physical sensations and emotions that accompany the memory are identified. The individual then goes over the memory while focusing on an external stimulus that creates bilateral (side to side) eye movement. This is most often achieved by watching the therapist moving a finger. After each set of bilateral movements, the individual is asked how he feels. This process continues until the memory is no longer disturbing.

The individual is processing the trauma with both hemispheres of the brain stimulated. The chosen positive belief is then installed, via bilateral movement, to replace the negative one. Each session normally lasts for about one hour. It is believed that EMDR works because the “bilateral stimulation” by-passes the area of the brain that has become stuck due to the trauma and is preventing the left side of the brain from self-soothing the right side of the brain.

During this procedure, clients tend to “process” the memory in a way that leads to a peaceful resolution. This often results in increased insight regarding both previously disturbing events and long-held negative thoughts about the self that have grown out of the original traumatic event. For example, an assault victim may come to realize that he was not to blame for what happened, he is now safe, that the event is really over, and, as a result, he can regain a general sense of safety in his world.

Trauma in relation to eating disorders

According to studies, individuals who experience some form of trauma are more likely to develop eating disorders than those who lack a history of trauma. 63 percent of individuals with anorexia nervosa and 57 percent with bulimia nervosa report a history of trauma. When trauma occurs the brain does not process the event properly. The trauma is buried in the unconscious mind and can be triggered again in the present. Eating disorder behaviors can begin as a way to avoid the thoughts and feelings of the past traumatic event.

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  • I was sent to [Center for Discovery], an all women's eating disorder treatment facility, and I was terrified to go. I was told I would be there for a month and would return home after that. I ended staying there for almost 3 months, and I can honestly say I am beyond thankful for my time there. I learned so much and they helped me find myself and get over my traumas and learn to cope with issues that I was having. All the staff was super helpful and had my best interest at heart. I may have not liked all of them, but I knew they wanted what was best for me. Even after my insurance run out, the therapist I was working with arranged for me to go to another center to continue my treatment because I was not ready to come home. I highly recommend getting help with Center for Discovery. They truly care!
    Rebecca S
    Alumni
  • I was at [Center for Discovery] for 6 weeks. I'm from Ohio and being so far away from home was hard. The staff made me feel super comfortable and cared for, making my stay much more manageable. The program was very individualized. They worked hard to make sure my specific needs were met and that my specific behaviors were addressed. This is a top notch facility with incredibly caring staff. Not only were the house staff wonderful, but everyone from admissions to the medical director worked hard to make sure I knew what was going on. This is a wonderful company who are true to what they say. They gave me my life back. I'm someone who has been in and out of treatment for my eating disorder and this program was by far the best. I feel so optimistic about my future. The progress I made there was life changing and I will be forever grateful. I recommend this program to anyone who is serious, willing, and ready to get better.
    Natalie F
    Alumni
  • I was surprised by my parents with the option of going to get help for my eating disorder and overall unhealthy lifestyle. I so badly wanted to get help, but was too ashamed. After talking to my mom I agreed to at least talk to someone from Center for Discoveryabout what program I would be in and what it would be like. The gal was super helpful, kind, and did not make me feel like I was the only person who suffered from what I did. She was very patient with me and overall helped out our family with the process of insurance and costs and what not. As for the actual facility I stayed at, it was a great experience.
    Rebecca S
    Alumni
  • We had our son in an acute care hospital and the social worker recommended the Center for Discovery. Before our son was discharged, my wife and I met with the staff and toured the facility. We were impressed by the staff and how the program was structured. Our son was there 6 weeks. It was a game changer and now we feel our son left with a good base of skills that he has continued to use. We now feel our son can leave a normal type life and not have to worry that he may need to live in a group home setting as an adult. We can't say enough for the help and support we received from the entire staff at the Center for Discovery. When we were considering the facility we did some reviews on line. Some weren't overly positive, but most were and we feel that it was a very positive experience for our son and our family. Even our son now admits that he learned some great skills and that his time at Center for Discovery turned his life around.
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    Parent of Alumni

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