Therapy EDMR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing)

What is EMDR?

The mind can often heal itself naturally, in the same way as the body does. Much of this natural coping mechanism occurs during sleep, particularly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Francine Shapiro developed Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) in 1987, utilising this natural process in order to successfully treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Since then, EMDR has been used to effectively treat a wide range of mental health problems such as: phobias, depression, anxiety panic attacks and OCD.

What happens when you are traumatised?

Most of the time your mind and body routinely manage to process new information and experiences without as being aware of it. As stated above, it is thought that a lot of these experiences are processed during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) whilst we are asleep. And so with time, we come to a position where we can view the traumatic experience as being in the past without re-experiencing it as if it was actually happening all over again. We are also able to develop more positive beliefs about ourselves.

However, when something out of the ordinary occurs and you are traumatised by an overwhelming event (e.g. a car accident) or by being repeatedly subjected to distress (e.g. childhood neglect), your natural coping mechanism can become overloaded. This overloading can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in your brain or being “unprocessed”.

Such unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in the limbic system of your brain in a “raw” and emotional form, rather than in a verbal “story” mode. This limbic system maintains traumatic memories in an isolated memory network, that is associated with emotions and physical sensations and which are disconnected from the brain’s cortex where we use language to store memories.

The limbic system’s traumatic memories can be continually triggered when you experience events similar to the difficult experiences you have been through. Often the memory is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger or despair are continually triggered in the present. Your ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can therefore become inhibited.

EMDR helps create the connections between your brain’s memory networks, enabling your brain to process the traumatic memory in a very natural way, and link it up with positive experiences and memories.

What is an EMDR session like?

EMDR utilises the natural healing ability of your body. You will be asked specific questions about a particular disturbing memory. Eye movements, similar to 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 whilst you keep the image in mind. Sometimes, a bar of moving lights or headphones is used instead. 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 or body sensations.

With repeated sets of eye movements, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory of 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 in many aspects of your life.

How long does treatment take?

With the kind of single event traumas experienced Therapist treats the problem successfully using EMDR method in as little as 3-5 sessions. However, your therapist may suggest EMDR as an approach to a specific problem as part of a longer course of treatment. EMDR sessions can last for 60 to 90 minutes.

Your therapist will first undertake an assessment of your traumatic experiences and associated memories and images, decide whether you are ready for treatment, and design a treatment plan.

Secondly there will be some coping skills training and preparation for the EMDR itself.

Next will be the sessions involving eye movements as discussed already.

Finally there will be a phase of re-evaluation and relapse prevention as the therapy comes to a close.

Will I remain in control?

During EMDR treatment, you will remain in control, fully alert and wide-awake. This is not a form of hypnosis and you can stop 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 evidence is there that EMDR is a successful treatment?

Although we do not know precisely how EMDR works, we do know that it is an effective treatment from the studies that have been done. EMDR is a clinical treatment which has successfully helped over a million individuals. The validity and reliability of EMDR has been established by rigorous research. There are now nineteen controlled studies into EMDR making it the most thoroughly researched method used in the treatment of trauma. It is recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) as an effective treatment for PTSD, and has been shown to be up to 50% quicker in achieving recovery compared to standard CBT in cases of trauma.

Will I still be able to remember things that happened to me?

It is impossible to erase memories of bad events completely. The aim of EMDR is to make your memories easier to manage, causing you less distress and allowing you to lead a more normal life. Eventually, you will be able to talk or think about the past events you have been working on remembering them in the same detail but without them upsetting you.

The following organisations provide useful information on EMDR: