EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
Eye movement desensitisation reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy developed in the 1980s by American psychologist Francine Shapiro. Shapiro used the body’s natural healing process which occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
EMDR is now recognised as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organisations such as the NHS, American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organisation.
EMDR enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.
People who suffer such traumatic experiences, whether in the distant or more recent past, can experience a resurfacing of the traumatic memory with the same intensity as if it is happening in the present. This can occur because the event was experienced as so overwhelming that is has been unable to be processed adequately by the brain.
The impact of this lack of processing can be experienced on many differing levels, sometimes resulting in flashbacks, nightmares, or bodily sensations, and also with the accompanying sights, sounds, thoughts, and feelings linked to the original experience.
Everyday life events can trigger a recollection of the original event. Sometimes memories are recalled in a literal way by pictures or images in the mind. Some people are also very conscious of the link between the trigger and the event, however for others the link can be an unconscious experience, recalled by bodily sensations.
While it isn't possible to erase these memories, the process of EMDR can alter the way these traumatic memories are stored within the brain, making them easier to manage.
Who can benefit?
EMDR therapy is increasingly being recommended for other issues too, including:
- sleep problems
- complicated grief
- self-esteem and performance anxiety
- relationship difficulties
EMDR can help you feel more able to cope with and manage difficult memories without needing to avoid potential triggers. It can help you feel less anxious and fearful, alleviating troublesome bodily sensations linked to stress.
It can help you feel more engaged in and enjoy activities and relationships with others by helping reduce feelings of stress, and anxiety or hypervigilance.
EMDR can help boost self-confidence and low self-worth, therefore improving relationships and our ability to deal with conflict and stress.
It can help you process these traumatic events, reducing their impact and helps you develop healthy coping mechanisms and improves negative inner dialogue and increases self-esteem.
EMDR is not a form of hypnosis, and you can stop the process at any time. During therapy, you will remain in control, fully alert and wide-awake.
In EMDR the therapist uses an eight-phase approach to address the past, present, and future aspects of the memory. This involves recalling distressing events while receiving 'bilateral sensory input', including side to side eye movements, hand tapping, and or auditory tones replicating the healing effect of REM sleep.
In Phase 1 you will be asked about your experiences, your current circumstances and history, whether you're taking any medication and what kind of support you have (if any). This gathering of information will help determine whether EMDR is the best course of action for you and if so, what the treatment targets might be.
During Phase 1 current and past linked target memories and goals are identified.
In Phase 2 The therapist helps prepare you for the work by going through relaxation and grounding exercises to be used during therapy and outside sessions. This phase helps widen your ability to tolerate distress, process difficult emotions, build resilience and feel grounded within sessions and in your daily life.
Phases 3-6, are about processing the memories, dealing with negative beliefs about yourself linked to the event and installing more positive beliefs about yourself.
In the processing stage you will be asked specific questions about a particular disturbing memory. Eye movements, like those during REM sleep, will be recreated, simply by asking you to watch the therapist's finger moving backwards and forwards across your visual field or asking you to look from one corner of the room to the other.
Sometimes, headphones with bilateral auditory tones are used and /or hand taps which stimulate the left- and right-hand sides of the brain whilst processing.
The eye movements will last for a short while and then stop. You will then be asked to report back on the experiences you have had during each of these sets of eye movements. Experiences during a session may include changes in thoughts, images, and feelings.
The therapist will support and facilitate your own self-healing process.
With repeated sets of movements, the traumatic memory tends to change so that it loses its intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory. Other linked associated memories may also heal simultaneously and lead to a dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of your life. Most clients experience EMDR as being a natural and very empowering therapy.
In Phase 7, which is known as closure, the therapist will help you reflect on what you have learnt from the session helping you relax and re-ground yourself.
At the beginning of each session (Phase 8), the therapist will help you revaluate the previous session your progress and how you have coped since and to identify the work/target for the new session. Does the last target memory need to be re-addressed or can you move on?
The middle and end stages of therapy are about processing any remaining current triggers and working on installing more positive future templates. This involves building up inner resources and resilience, to be used when possible triggering events come up in the future.
How long does treatment take?
EMDR can be brief focused treatment or part of a longer psychotherapy programme. Sessions can be for 60 to 90 minutes.