What is EMDR?
EMDR is based on the premise that the mind is capable of healing itself naturally, in the same way as the body does. It is hypothesized that much of this natural coping mechanism occurs during sleep, particularly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Francine Shapiro developed EMDR in 1987, tapping into 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 and troubling symptoms, such as anxiety, shame, anger, depression, panic, sleep disturbance, and flashbacks, that are the result of traumatic experiences. Not only has EMDR therapy been proven effective in reducing the chronic symptoms which follow trauma, the therapy benefits appear to be permanent.
What does EMDR stand for?
Eye Movement refers to either bilateral eye movements, or bilateral alternating taps or tones, that have beneficial effects by facilitating alternating stimulation of the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
Desensitization refers to the removal of the emotional disturbance associated with a traumatic memory.
Reprocessing refers to the replacement of the unhealthy, negative beliefs associated with traumatic memories, with more healthy, positive beliefs.
What happens when you are traumatized?
Most of the time the body routinely manages new information and experiences with minimal conscious awareness. However, when something out of the ordinary occurs and the system is overwhelmed with a traumatizing event (e.g. a car accident) or by being repeatedly subjected to distress (e.g. childhood neglect or repeated negative messaging), the natural coping mechanism can become overloaded. This overloading can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in the brain or being "unprocessed". Such unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in the limbic system of the 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 language is used to store memories. The limbic system’s traumatic memories can be continually triggered through the experience of similar events. Often the memory itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as fear, panic, anger or despair are continually triggered in the present. This inhibits the ability to live in the present, and learn from new experiences. EMDR helps to unlock the nervous system, enabling the brain to process the traumatic memory in a very natural way.
What is an EMDR session like?
EMDR utilizes the natural healing ability of the body. Eye movements, similar to those during REM sleep, will be recreated, tracking the therapist's finger moving backwards and forwards across the visual field while specific questions are asked about a disturbing memory. Sometimes, a bar of moving lights or headphones is used instead. The eye movements will last for a short while and then stop, followed by a pause to report back on the experiences had during each of these sets of eye movements. Experiences during a session may include changes in thoughts, images and feelings.
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. Clearing the distress of these linking of related memories can lead to a dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of life.
What happens afterwards?
Material may continue to be processed for days or even weeks after the session, appearing as new insights, vivid dreams, strong feelings, or memory recall. This may feel confusing, but it is just a continuation of the healing process, and should simply be reported at the next session. As the distressing symptoms fade, therapy can be used to work on developing new skills and ways of coping.
What can EMDR be used for?
In addition to its use for the treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, EMDR has been successfully used to treat:
Anxiety and panic attacks
Pain relief, phantom limb pain
Self-esteem and performance anxiety
Can anyone benefit from EMDR?
EMDR can accelerate therapy by resolving the impact of past traumas, therefor allowing a life more fully lived in the present. It is not, however, appropriate for everyone. The process is rapid, and any disturbing experiences, if they occur at all, last for a comparatively short period of time. Nevertheless, the willingness to experience the strong feelings and disturbing thoughts, which sometimes occur during sessions, is required.
How long does treatment take?
EMDR can be brief focused treatment or part of a longer psychotherapy program. EMDR sessions can be for 60 to 90 minutes.
Will I will remain in control and empowered?
During EMDR treatment, participants remain in control, fully alert and wide-awake. This is not a form of hypnosis, and the process can be consciously stopped at any time. EMDR therapy facilitates the mind’s self-healing with as little intervention 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?
EMDR is an innovative 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, (Details on EMDR Europe and EMDR Institute Inc.) and is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as an effective treatment for PTSD.