Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an evidence based therapy recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). It was developed in the 1980s by Francine Shapiro and was designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. It primarily treats individuals with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It can also be helpful for other conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and panic disorders.
EMDR can give the person incredible relief as explained by Dr Justin Havens, who noted the dramatic transformation that can be achieved by someone when they go from always thinking of a traumatic memory to being able to leave it behind them.
From my own understanding of EMDR these type of transformations are as a result of bilateral stimulation.
In my clinical experience of over 20 years working as a psychologist, people go to great lengths to avoid recalling traumatic events and are understandably worried at the prospect of entering therapy to discuss memories they would rather forget. However, as explained by the Cleveland Clinic the memories are accessed in a specific way and through with process of EMDR, get reprocessed without the pain of the original events
The main tenet of EMDR is bilateral stimulation, usually through guided eye movements, where the client is asked to track the therapist’s fingers as they move them back and forth across the client’s field of vision. When your brain is focused on tracking something as you talk about your traumatic event with your therapist, the memories become less powerful.
EMDR therapy is not suitable for everyone, and its success can depend on various factors, including the nature of the trauma and individual differences. Always seek advice from a qualified mental health professional to explore the most appropriate treatment options for your circumstances.
How does EMDR work in practice?
There are eight different stages to the therapy.
- History-Taking and Treatment Planning:
- Identifying and assessing target memories for EMDR processing.
- Developing a treatment plan.
- Building trust and creating a safe environment for the client.
- Teaching coping mechanisms and stress reduction techniques.
- Identifying negative beliefs, emotions, and body sensations related to the target memory.
- Selecting a positive belief to replace the negative one.
- The therapist leads the client in sets of eye movements (or other bilateral stimulation) while the client focuses on the distressing memory.
- The goal is to decrease the distress associated with the memory.
- Strengthening and installing the positive belief identified in the assessment phase.
- Body Scan:
- Identifying any residual tension or distress in the body related to the target memory.
- Returning to equilibrium at the end of the session.
- Utilizing self-soothing techniques learned in the preparation phase.
- Assessing progress and addressing any remaining distress or negative beliefs.
Clients who have undergone EMDR therapy generally state that their once traumatic memories, have lost their grip on them and become like any other memory.
If you wish to find a therapist who specialises in EMDR, please consult EMDR All Ireland.