EMDR - Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing
EMDR stands for ‘Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing’, which is a complicated name for a powerful psychological treatment. Francine Shapiro who developed the therapy, now wishes she had called it ‘Reprocessing Therapy’.
EMDR has been shown to be an effective treatment for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and many other forms of psychological distress including anxiety, depression, panic attacks and phobias. It is an integrative psychotherapy which can be used with both adults and children.
Although scientists cannot explain exactly how EMDR works, extensive research has shown that it is highly effective and it is recommended by both the National Institute for Health & Care Excellence (NICE) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the treatment of trauma. It usually involves a series of rapid eye movements which encourages the brain to reprocess disturbing memories. The rapid eye movements stimulate the integration of right and left brain hemispheres, which is similar to what happens in REM sleep.
When we experience a traumatic event, our brains usually process the experience over time and the memories fade. However there are other times when something gets frozen or stuck and the upsetting experience remains with us through nightmares, flashbacks, anxious, repetitive thoughts or physical sensations that feel like we’re experiencing the trauma all over again. These experiences often lead to changes in behaviour or unexplained symptoms. Often we try to avoid things that remind us of the trauma and this in itself causes problems.
Traumatic experiences could be major events like a car crash or an emergency medical procedure or something more subtle, but just as distressing, like bullying, social humiliation, rejection or witnessing an accident. It is often the latter experiences that underlie depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
The process of left/right stimulation of the brain can be done using eye movements, tapping alternate hands or knees, holding gentle buzzers or listening to auditory tones on headphones. These procedures would all be fully explained by an EMDR therapist. The client remains in control of the process and is fully alert and conscious at all times. An important advantage of EMDR is that it is not necessary to talk in detail about the traumatic experience.
Successful EMDR, removes the intensity of the images, sounds, emotions and bodily feelings associated with the trauma. It removes emotional blocks and fears and means that the client can live life in a more positive and hopeful way.
With single event traumas like a car crash it may be that all that is needed is three or four sessions. Sometimes however with more incidents of trauma or with a complex life history EMDR is something that is used as part of a longer term therapy.
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