EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy) Therapy works with an individual who is experiencing distressing memories which can lead to symptoms of anxiety, panic attacks and depression.
EMDR is a remarkable treatment method used to heal the symptoms of trauma, as well as other emotional conditions. EMDR is the most efficient and rapid method for healing PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) as shown by extensive scientific research studies.
While EMDR therapy was originally developed for PTSD, research is continuing to support its use for a variety of psychological issues. Many psychological symptoms of anxiety, sleeplessness, substance abuse and depression are related to life disturbing events such as abuse, bullying, embarrassment and feeling not in control. EMDR therapy can be tailored to process these past events to help resolve the related psychological condition.
Do you have any of the following symptoms?
- Do you find it difficult to trust others?
- Are you attracted to people who just aren’t good for you?
- Do you feel guilty without knowing why?
- Are you in a painful relationship and can’t leave?
- Were you physically or emotionally abused as a child?
Do you experience?
- Self-blame, self-consciousness, shame or guilt
- Chronic or excessive anger, sadness
- Indecisiveness, confusion, hard to think
- Worry, anxiety, obsessive thinking
- Unpleasant feeling, mood swings
- Negativity, pessimism, irritability
If you can answer “Yes” to any of these questions, then stress, anxiety and fear could be affecting your life and indicates you may benefit from EMDR Therapy.
Why EMDR Therapy?
As indicated in the WHO guidelines, EMDR therapy is based on the idea that negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours are the result of unprocessed memories from unpleasant experiences. The treatment involves standardised procedures that include focusing simultaneously on:
- spontaneous associations of traumatic images, thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations; and
- bilateral stimulation that is most common in the form of repeated eye movements.
EMDR therapy aims to reduce subjective distress and strengthen adaptive cognitions related to the traumatic event.
Unlike CBT with a trauma focus, EMDR therapy does not involve:
- Detailed descriptions of the event,
- Direct challenging of beliefs,
- Extended exposure, or
Therefore, EMDR therapy is more direct over a shorter period and is less stressful for the client. PTSD is often associated with war but also includes trauma from car accidents, child abuse, family violence, medical interventions and natural disasters. Other traumatic events that may be efficiently processed with EMDR may include painful life events related to loss, humiliation, rejection, criticism, exclusion, or other distressing moments.
What are the Symptoms that can be helped by EMDR?
- High anxiety and lack of motivation
- Memories of a traumatic experience
- Fear of being alone
- Unrealistic feelings of guilt and shame
- Difficulty in trusting others
- Relationship problems
How does EMDR therapy work?
EMDR is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. Repeated studies show that by using EMDR therapy, people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy—which once took years to make a difference. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can, in fact, heal from psychological trauma—much as the body recovers from physical trauma. When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound. If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the object is removed healing resumes.
EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes. The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health. If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR therapy training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes.
What an EMDR Session Looks Like
Your EMDR therapist will commence with taking your history and assessing the problem you have presented. Assessment will help you identify when you began experiencing symptoms and what memories are associated with your feelings related to that.
You do not have to describe in detail what happened, merely a few key components connected to the memory to avoid raising your stress levels. Once the target memories have been identified, you will be asked to bring up the memory, your thoughts and emotions associated with it. Often clients will experience an uncomfortable body sensation associated with the memory such as a tight throat or tense stomach.
The EMDR therapy uses bilateral stimulation, right/left eye movement or tactile stimulation, or sound, which repeatedly activates the opposite sides of the brain releasing emotional experiences that are “trapped” in the nervous system. This assists the neurophysiological system, the basis of the mind/body connection, to free itself of blockages and reconnect itself.
EMDR allows a client to process an emotional experience that he/she cannot yet talk about, yet following an EMDR session find an ability to talk about it freely. Most importantly, it can eliminate stress surrounding the traumatic event, with the purpose of allowing new life in the once traumatised and emotionally painful memory.
The therapist works gently with the client and asks him/her to revisit the traumatic moment or incident, recalling feelings surrounding the experience, as well as any negative thoughts, feelings or memories. The therapist then holds her fingers about twenty centimetres from the client’s face and begins to move them back and forth like a windshield wiper. The client tracks the movements as if watching ping pong. The more intensely the client focuses on the memory, the easier it becomes for the memory to come to life. As quick and vibrant images arise during the therapy session, they are processed by the eye movements, resulting in painful feelings being exchanged for more peaceful, loving and resolved feelings.
Clients report that their symptoms are reduced, more positive thoughts come to mind, and they feel more confident in stressful situations.
EMDR therapy focuses on the identified issues and is not a long-term ‘talking’ therapy. The goal is to help clients gain a sense of emotional control and lead productive lives without worrying about past events.
What is the History of EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) is an empirically supported treatment for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While over a decade ago there was controversy regarding the effectiveness of EMDR, this is no longer the case. Over 25 randomised controlled trials have demonstrated the effectiveness of EMDR. While research remains active, the precise mechanism by which EMDR works to resolve traumatic stress is unclear, in part, because we are just beginning to understand exactly how the brain processes vivid memories and emotions. However, some neuropsychologists believe EMDR enables the person undergoing treatment to access traumatic memories rapidly and process them emotionally and cognitively, which facilitates their resolution. What is evident is that the mechanism by which the stress is resolved is not that of exposure as used in Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE).
“We believe that EMDR induces a fundamental change in brain circuitry similar to what happens in REM sleep — that allows the person undergoing treatment to more effectively process and incorporate traumatic memories into general association networks in the brain. This helps the individual integrate and understand the memories within the larger context of his or her life experience.” – Robert Stickgold, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School
Since the initial medical study in 1989 positive therapeutic results with EMDR has been reported with the following populations:
- People who have witnessed or been a victim of a disaster (rape, accidents, earthquakes, fires, murder, gang-related violence)
- Clients suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
- Suffers from panic disorders and anxiety attacks
- Suffers from phobias
- Chemically dependent clients
- Persons exposed to excess loss ( loss by death, divorce, loss of a house by fire)
- Crime victims and police officers who were once overcome with violent memories
- Accident or burn victims
Although a relatively new therapeutic technique, EMDR is meeting with much success all across the country. EMDR is a natural process. The client and the therapist become partners on a journey to help move traumatic and blocked energy. Together they work to transcend and free up the energy, so the client can return to their natural grounded state of being. The goal of this work is to help the client heal so that they can return to their lives in peace.
“EMDR is one of the most powerful tools I’ve encountered for treating posttraumatic stress. In the hands of a competent and compassionate therapist, it gives people the means to heal themselves.”
Steven Silver, PhD
Former director of the PTSD Unit,
Veterans Administration Medical Center,
EMDR: The unconventional therapy is treating post-traumatic stress disorder with the wave of a finger ABC 7.30 Report feature on EMDR.