What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy approach designed for working with distressing or traumatic memories. The theory behind EMDR is that many psychological difficulties are the result of distressing life experiences which have not been stored in memory properly and are said to be unprocessed or blocked. These traumatic memories may need some help to become processed. In 1987, Francine Shapiro made the chance observation that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts and be utilised to successfully treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
What happens when you are traumatised?
Normal memories are stored by a part of the brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is like a librarian that catalogues (processes) events and stores them in the right place. However, some traumatic events (such as accidents, abuse, disasters or violence) are so overwhelming that the hippocampus doesn’t do its job properly and the memories are stored in their raw, unprocessed form. These trauma events are easily triggered and cause distress over and over again. EMDR helps create the connections between your brain’s memory networks, enabling your brain to process the traumatic memory in a very natural way.
What is an EMDR session like?
EMDR utilises the natural healing ability of your body. After a thorough assessment, you will be asked specific question about a particular disturbing memory. Eye movements, similar to those experienced during REM sleep, will be recreated simply by asking you to watch the therapist’s finger moving from side to side in your line of vision. This side to side motion is called bilateral stimulation and is part of the memory processing. The eye movements will last for a short while and then stop. The therapist will ask you some questions about what you are experiencing between these sets of eye movements. With repeated sets of eye movements, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and becomes a neutral memory or an event in the past. Other associated memories may also heal at the same time. This linking of related memories can lead to a dramatic and rapid improvement I may aspects of your life.
Will I remain in control and empowered?
You will remain in control, fully alert and wide-awake during EMDR treatment. EMDR is not a form of hypnosis and you can stop the process at any time. Throughout the session, the therapist will support and facilitate your own self-healing and intervene as little as possible. Reprocessing is usually experienced as something that happens spontaneously, and new connections and insights are felt to arise quite naturally from within. As a result, most people experience EMDR as being a natural and very empowering therapy.
What can EMDR be used for?
Scientific research has established that EMDR is a highly effective treatment for PTSD. EMDR has also been successfully used to treat:
- Panic attacks
- Complicated grief
- Disturbing memories
- Sexual or physical abuse
- Personality disorders
- Self-esteem and performance anxiety
- Pain relief, phantom limb pain
How long does treatment take?
EMDR can be a brief focused treatment or part of a longer psychotherapy programme. EMDR session can be from 60 to 90 minutes. The number of sessions required will depend on the type and severity of trauma which you experienced. Studies have shown that 77 – 90% of clients with PTSD were able to eliminate their symptoms after 3-7 sessions of EMDR (without homework).
What are the advantages of EMDR over other treatment approaches?
Treatment is focused on the symptoms and conducted in session
- EMDR has comparable results to that of other trauma treatments such as exposure therapy, but over a much shorter timeframe.
- Better tolerated by clients that exposure therapy
- Clients do not have to talk in detail about their trauma