EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. It is a therapy used to help people recover from distressing events and the problems they have caused, like flashbacks, upsetting thoughts or images, depression or anxiety. In this way although EMDR is best known for and recognised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for its effectiveness in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). EMDR can also be used to help treat a variety of mental health problems like depression or anxiety, especially where a difficult life event has been involved. EMDR can be useful for people who have witnessed or experienced an event like a car accident, a violent crime, sexual or emotional abuse, bullying, a social humiliation or the sudden loss of a loved one, and are struggling to recover. Please see an informative video below from EMDR International Association
Where appropriate EMDR can treat:
Insomnia (sleep difficulties)
How does EMDR work?
EMDR Association UK describes that when a person experiences a trauma, they may feel overwhelmed and their brain may be unable to fully process what is going on. The memory of the event seems to become “stuck” so that it remains very intense and vivid. The person can re-experience what they saw, heard and smelt and the full force of the distress they felt whenever the memory comes to mind.
EMDR aims to help the brain “unstick” and reprocess the memory properly so that it is no longer so intense. It also helps to desensitise the person to the emotional impact of the memory, so that they can think about the event without experiencing such strong feelings.
It does this by asking the person to recall the traumatic event while they also move their eyes from side-to-side, hear a sound in each ear alternately, or feel a tap on each hand alternately. These side-to-side sensations seem to effectively stimulate the “stuck” processing system in the brain so that it can reprocess the information more like an ordinary memory, reducing its intensity.
The effect may be similar to what occurs naturally during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, when your eyes move rapidly from side to side as the brain processes the events of the day. Some research suggests that EMDR is effective because concentrating on another task whilst processing a distressing memory gives the brain more work to do. When the brain is not giving its full attention to processing the memory, it starts to become less vivid. This allows the person to distance themselves from it and begin to remember the event in a more helpful and manageable way.
EMDR is a brief therapy approach and can be used as a standalone treatment or alongside a course of psychotherapy such as CBT although they are very different approaches. CBT involves talking through the trauma whether verbally or written whereas EMDR relies on bilateral stimulation to help the brain do its own natural healing. Typically sessions last between 60-90 minutes. I will assess the appropriateness of EMDR for your problem and will prepare you for the treatment prior to beginning the processing.
The most typical form of bilateral stimulation for online use involves a butterfly hug (as recently demonstrated by Prince Harry) where you cross your arms over your chest and tap your shoulders, or you can tap your knees, there are also programs where you can visually track the rapid movement of an object across the screen, or you can move your eyes across your computer to focus on a point on either side of the room ( you can use post it notes or similar), whilst thinking about a distressing event. Eye movement bilateral stimulation is best used via your computer rather than a small screen.
This form of therapy typically takes clients through eight-phases:
Phase 1: History and treatment planning
Talking about the trauma and identifying specific memories to treat
Phase 2: Preparation
Learning different coping mechanisms for psychological stress
Phase 3: Assessment
Targeting the specific memories and any linked elements such as physical sensations which are triggered
Phases 4-7: Treatment
Using EMDR techniques involves focusing on negative or traumatic experiences while a therapist asks the patient to carry out specific eye movements. Eye movements, or other bilateral stimulation, mimics Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep – this is the deepest stage of sleep and it is in this stage that cognitive processing occurs
If at any point, the exercises become too distressing, the therapist will guide their patient back to the present. Over time, distress will likely fade
Phase 8: Evaluation
This final phase is where both the patient and therapist evaluate the progress made throughout the treatment sessions