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How to Self-Administer EMDR Therapy

Audrey is a medical transcriptionist, instructor, writer, photographer, and dog trainer who writes on a variety of topics.

Anxiety Therapy Treatments

As anyone who suffers from an anxiety syndrome or disorder knows, the most important thing after it happens is to have it never happen again.

However, statistics show that most people who suffer from an anxiety or panic disorder will most likely have their symptoms recur--multiple times.

In anxiety disorders like OCD, bipolar, schizophrenia, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, PTSD, and other phobic-type syndromes, the possible recurrence of the anxiety-producing scenario can be enough to perpetuate the disorder.

For example, the person becomes so fixated on it possibly happening again that it becomes paralyzing. The "thing" that made it happen becomes the phobia in many cases and results in an unwillingness to ever be put in that same situation--or similar situations.

Though a particular event can be a trigger in such disorders as PTSD, the actual fear of the possibility of anxiety can stop may people dead in their tracks.

So, the question becomes which came first--the anxiety or the anxiety-producing moment? How do you begin to cure anxiety disorders without addressing the anxiety itself?

In this author's humble opinion, you can't. You have to address the anxiety as it occurs each and every time and find a way to get through that specific moment. Baby steps--or one day at a time.

Anxiety management is crucial for many people.

Anxiety management is crucial for many people.

EMDR Treatment - How Does it Work?

A relatively new form of psychotherapy that is being used today on various kinds of anxiety disorders is called EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprogramming.

While there are many other treatments available for anxiety and stress disorders, EMDR is showing great promise in treating many types of anxiety-related problems.

The theory behind EMDR is that, especially in cases of post traumatic stress disorder, anxious or stressful feelings become trapped within the body at moments of panic. A fight or flight response is usually triggered in most people when something bad happens.

That can extend to a traumatic event such as witnessing a horrific accident or it can relate to someone being accidentally trapped under water for several minutes. Whatever the trauma or the event, the panic or the fear is what sometimes stays "caught." The feeling is literally trapped inside the nervous system and until the feeling is somehow healed, it will always be present and thus can always become a source of reproducible anxiety--in many different similar and non-similar situations.

Treatment for Panic Anxiety Symptoms

For many people who suffer from one of the anxiety or panic disorders, unfortunately there is usually little warning when something will trigger an attack.

The beauty of self-administered EMDR is that no matter where the person is, relief for anxiety is in sight. And there are several ways that you can self-administer EMDR.

So how does EMDR make the stress and anxiety go away? A very simplistic way to explain it would be that the brain is stimulated on both the right and left side simultaneously.

Images are recreated in the person's mind from the anxiety event (something that caused the reaction initially) and the person is asked to revisit that place--no matter how uncomfortable.

Then through imagery while the simultaneous stimulation is being given, the person proceeds to imagery on a more positive plane--they are safe, the situation is resolved this time, no harm came to them and most especially, the anxiety is resolved.

The simultaneous stimulation can be in the form of having the person follow someone's fingers with their eyes without moving their head from left to right.

It can also be done by someone tapping on the person's knees, first right, then left.

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It can also be done in a variety of other ways from headphones playing in the left ear and then the right ear to buzzes being felt in one hand and then the other. The method is not as important as the actual stimulation.

But what if the person is alone and is having a panic episode or an anxiety attack? What if their therapist or their confidante is not available?

EMDR therapy can actually be self-administered in several very simple ways. The techniques can be performed anywhere and at any time.

Butterfly Hug

The butterfly hug is demonstrated on the YouTube video below and is part of an EMDR therapy called dual attention stimulation, or DAS.

It works the same way a therapist-administered form of EMDR would except that it is something anyone can do themselves.

Keep in mind that part of EMDR therapy is preparing yourself by understanding the full concepts of the treatment. Once someone understands the methodology, then these techniques are easily employed.

Without knowledge of the several stages of EMDR, this therapy will still most likely help anyone although the effect is even greater if one understands the full mechanics of EMDR therapy.

Whether you are seated in a chair, standing, or lying in bed--at the onset of panic or anxiety symptoms, focus on the symptoms and the feelings. The goal of EMDR is not to avoid the inciting event but to learn a better way to deal with it.

Focus on your feelings--panic, anxiety, whatever they are--and place your own hands on your opposite upper forearms--as if you were giving yourself a half hug.

Begin gently tapping on your forearms one at a time--first the left, then the right. Continue doing this. Close your eyes if it helps you to concentrate.

Imagine yourself in the situation from a better perspective, or remove yourself from it completely. Go to a "safe place" in your mind--whatever that good place is--and continue tapping.

Continue tapping until the anxiety or panic attack has subsided. When you think of the anxious moment from the beginning or the situation that caused the anxiety to occur, you should be able to visualize it from a more detached/non-anxious perspective.

Anxiety and Panic Remedies for Anyone

There are many other uses for this technique. This is an excellent technique to use on children who are prone to anxiety attacks or develop overstimulation problems.

You can place a child on your shoulder and begin gently tapping on each side while giving them soothing mental images or merely inviting them to be calmer.

You can also perform this technique by tapping on your knees while sitting in a chair. The idea is that you tap on one side of the body followed by tapping on the other side of the body. This frees the body's anxious and panic response and allows the brain to take over leading to dissolution of the fear and stress and replacing it with a calmer sense of well being.

There is also another YouTube video which follows which uses the computer as a method to self-administer EMDR. This video concentrates on dealing with obtrusive thoughts or triggers that may set off anxiety or panic attacks for someone. It is yet another way to deal with symptoms one episode/thought at a time.

EMDR - The Butterfly Hug

Demo of Self-Administered EMDR Therapy

How Can You Overcome Anxiety?

That's the million dollar question. For some of us, anxiety becomes a cumulative curse as one situation that makes us anxious leads to other situations that make us even more anxious. It becomes a vicious circle.

However, research shows that dealing with one anxious moment at a time is the best way to treat anxiety and panic disorders of any kind. While statistics do not show as much promise for EMDR with agoraphobia and other phobic conditions, I tend to disagree with this.

Based upon my own experience with EMDR in dealing with PTSD, I have also found it very beneficial in dealing with other anxiety-producing repercussions that I've experienced.

Employing the butterfly hug has worked for me on several occasions when something out of the blue triggered an irrational fear about something. It has also helped me to deal with any stressful situation as the techniques it's based on are all about helping someone cope with stress and anxiety.

From my own experience, I've found that it makes more sense to deal with events as they occur, rather than wondering and worrying about when they will occur--because occur they will. EMDR in my opinion, whether administered by a therapist or self-administered, is a proactive way of dealing with anxiety of any kind.

While medications, herbal remedies, biofeedback, etc., have shown great promise with all sorts of panic and anxiety disorders, EMDR therapy seems to be able to get to the root of the problem and resolve it once and for all. It's only a matter of dealing with each anxious episode, as it arises, to become "healed."

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Karin on December 26, 2019:

Why isn't there a posdobility to vote for "yes, and I've done it"?

Kathy Thompson on May 24, 2016:

This article was very helpful. I am definitely going to try it. The problem I have is anxiety within my dreams. The source is from years ago in my 20's. I can't seem to have normal dreams. I have dreams inside of dreams then revisit these dreams. I wake up very tired yet extremely anxious. I'm going to try it when I dream. Thanks you so much. Kathy

Fraser on May 02, 2016:

Been getting EMDR from a therapist weekly for months after a year of CBT did nothing to help me. For me EMDR is utterly useless. The science behind it is solid and I wish it would work but it just stirs up every horrible though and feeling and makes me feel worse.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on June 03, 2013:

I totally agree, CalmClinic--thanks so much for the valuable addition to the comments~

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on September 10, 2012:

Bridalletter--wishing you and your husband every success. I think anxiety is one of the hardest things to overcome because if you get "trapped" it's hard to trust that you can get out of the cycle. This therapy really has helped me a lot though - more so than anything else I've ever tried. Good luck!!

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on August 11, 2012:

Thanks, Rhonda - sometimes it is really hard to verbalize the steps of a process...and it is a great therapy~ Glad it helped you, too! I know just the feeling you mean...the things I've worked on I can now talk about without shaking and becoming really upset when I visualize the incident or whatever. I think it does show a lot of promise in helping folks deal with a lot of anxiety issues.

toknowinfo on August 11, 2012:

Hi Audrey, this is a very interesting hub. I have had EMDR for something traumatic that happened to me a while ago. It does really work. I can now talk about the event, even though I don't really like to, in a much more matter of fact, relaxed tone. I don't have PTSD anymore, it is just something that happened. I used to get mechanical if I had to talk about it. The memory is still there, but it doesn't bother me anymore. I didn't know you can do EMDR yourself. It is good to know. You explained EMDR perfectly.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on August 08, 2012:

Thanks BJ--yes indeed as in all forms of everything...the proof will be in the pudding...or something like that~

drbj and sherry from south Florida on August 08, 2012:

EMDR does hold promise, Audrey, but all the results are not in yet. Thanks for this interesting explanation.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on August 07, 2012:

Kelleyward!! Awesome!!! I definitely think the research isn't all in yet and that it will be found to be an incredibly healing treatment for other things besides PTSD. They are saying that it's the best treatment so far for that but they are dubious over the results with anxieties and phobias...I disagree since I did it one day when I was about to have a panic attack and it stopped - on a dime!

Great to know it's working for other people and I'll try to look for your hub....thanks for stopping by.

kelleyward on August 07, 2012:

This is a great article. In fact I was just going to start writing an article on PTSD and EMDR tomorrow. I have had this treatment and found it to be very effective in managing anxiety and panic attacks. Voted up, useful, and interesting. Take care, Kelley

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