Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, or EMDR for short, is a psychotherapy technique that was created by psychologist Francine Shapiro in 1990. For those struggling with PTSD, anxiety disorders, or trauma, EMDR therapy is an effective choice for treatment. EMDR has been clinically validated by over 30 randomised, controlled trials, according to the EMDR Research Foundation, which is the gold standard for clinical studies. Millions of people of all ages have experienced psychological trauma relief with the help of EMDR therapy, which consists of a set of standardised procedures that integrate components from numerous different therapeutic modalities.
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), was initially discovered to help clients with a history of trauma and who have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The therapy is now being used in the treatment of many other disorders that also have a trauma component, including eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, complicated grief, panic disorders, and dissociative disorders. Many people have never heard of EMDR, despite the fact that this kind of therapy is becoming increasingly widespread in many treatment facilities. Furthermore, not many therapists conduct EMDR because it is a specialist therapy that calls for particular certification and licensing. Most respectable eating disorder treatment facilities have at least one EMDR-trained therapist on staff who can work with patients to identify the traumatic events that led to their eating disorder.
By gradually reacquainting the traumatised person with the images, self-thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations connected to the trauma and enabling the brain’s adaptive resolution mechanisms to work, EMDR therapy is a phased, focused method to treating trauma and accompanying symptoms.
It is based on the theory that symptoms appear when trauma and other upsetting or difficult experiences overwhelm the brain’s capacity to heal, and that the healing process can be accelerated and completed through bilateral stimulation of the brains two hemispheres (dual awareness).
EMDR therapy consists of eight phases, which identify and address traumatic experiences that have outweighed the brain’s natural coping capacity. Traumatic experiences such as flashbacks or anxiety, or harmful coping mechanisms, such as isolating behaviour and self-medication with alcohol or drugs are also worked on.
The Eight EMDR Process
Through EMDR, people can safely process traumatic memories until these are no longer negatively affecting their psychological well-being. The negative emotions and distressing sensations that are brought on by exposure to traumatic memories are found to be significantly reduced and often disappear completely.
The eight stages in the EMDR process include
- History taking
- Body check
- Reassessing and evaluation of the impact of the treatment
During the EMDR session the individual receiving treatment concentrates on a troubling memory and recognises their self-defeating thinking. The EMDR protocols enable the patient to alter their perception of themselves, if it is linked to a negative memory by teaching them to associate it with a positive thought instead.
For instance, it is not atypical for some intimate partner abuse or domestic violence survivors to believe they in some way were ‘responsible for’ or ‘deserved’ the abuse. The person can be helped to recognise this as detrimental thought with the aid of EMDR. Therefore, “I deserved it” changes to “I am a deserving and honourable person in charge of my life.”
The memory’s related feelings and sensations are all named and processed during EMDR. Whilst holding a mental picture of the memory and concentrating on an external stimulus such as moving horizontal lights or a gentle pulsating buzzer held in either hand. These rapid (or bilateral) eye movement and tactile sensations stimulate the two hemispheres of the brain. This process allows memories and sensations stored in the nervous system to be processed from short term memory into long term memory where they can more easily degrade and weaken. This procedure is repeated until the somatic footprint of the trauma and the memory itself begins to fade and weaken. When the patient reports that they no longer bothered by the recollection a chosen positive belief is then “installed” to take the place of the negative belief. This is undertaken using slower bilateral movements or vibrations. The same process can be repeated for multiple memories or events that have occurred across a patient’s lifetime.
The average session lasts about an hour. The “bilateral stimulation” of EMDR is thought to be effective because it avoids the trauma-stuck part of the brain that processes memories. The brain cannot process or store a challenging or traumatic memory adequately when it is stuck in the mind or becomes fused to the fight or flight response system in the brain.
People securely process their memories with EMDR, which research indicates results in a reduction in symptoms. The experience leads to a both a reduction in trauma symptoms as well as a greater understanding of both the earlier upsetting incidents and the self-critical beliefs that developed as a result of the initial traumatic event.
What Happens During an Average EMDR Session?
A complete client history is taken in the first of the eight treatment phases, which is followed by a stage of preparation. In the bilateral stimulation component, the client concentrates on a troubling memory and names the self-defeating thought that is associated with it. An example might be when a survivor of a serious sexual assault tells themselves that, “I am dirty.” The client would create a positive belief about himself or herself that he would like to have, such as “I am a deserving and good person in control of my life.” The memory’s accompanying both the bodily and emotional experiences are all named. Then, while concentrating on an outside stimulus that causes bilateral or side to side eye movement or tactile sensations, the person reviews the memory. The most common way to do this is to watch the therapist move a finger or follow some horizontally or diagonally shifting lights. The subject is questioned regarding his or her feelings following each round of bilateral movements. Both brain hemispheres are active while the person processes the trauma. By using slower bilateral movement, the selected positive belief is then installed to take the place of the unfavourable one. Typically, each session lasts for about an hour. This practice is continued until the memory is no longer upsetting.
Clients frequently “process” the memories during these standardized protocols in a way that results in positive outcomes. The EMDR protocols allow for greater understanding of both the earlier upsetting incidents and the persistently unfavourable thoughts about oneself that develop as a result of the initial traumatic event. For instance, a victim of assault may come to understand that he or she was not to blame for what occurred, that they are now safe, that the incident has ended and that he or she is now safe. As a result, the patient might then re-establish a sense of general safety in her or his surroundings.
Who Is EMDR Suitable For?
The American Psychiatric Association and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies both support EMDR therapy. This treatment has also received the support of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Defence, and many other international organisations, including the Israeli National Council for Mental Health and the UK National Institute of Clinical Excellence and The Department of Health.
According to the EMDR Research Foundation the clinical efficacy of EMDR therapy for issues such as interpersonal violence, serious sexual assault, combat trauma, childhood trauma and neglect, life-threatening accidents is now well established. Adjunctive symptoms and sequalae such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse also been shown to be treatable in more than 30 peer reviewed studies. EMDR has become established as the first line treatment for PTSD and Complex Trauma.
Many researchers and clinical experts have come to agree that EMDR has the power to cure survivors of all kinds of trauma. This unified consensus puts EMDR at the forefront of trauma therapy. Experts from around the world agree that this approach alters the way in which we think about the presence of the unique physical, emotional, and psychological impacts of a traumatic incident. It has been suggested that after a traumatic experience, the pain and sense of danger that are carried within the self are so intense that it causes the soul to feel as though it is in emotional quicksand. As the client is asked to imagine the image of pain and danger (trauma) that most disturbs them, EMDR disarms belief systems, (also known as cognition), and replaces the negative cognition through a series of lateral eye movements, tapping, or sounds.
What Ailments and Issues Does EMDR Address?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is the condition for which EMDR is most frequently used (PTSD). The following conditions are also treated with it by mental healthcare professionals:
- Anxiety disorders include social anxiety/phobia, panic disorders; phobias, and generalised anxiety disorders
- Depression disorders include major depressive disorder, chronic depression, and depression brought on by disease
- Dissociative disorders include depersonalization or derealisation disorders amnesia, and dissociative identity disorders
- Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder are examples of eating disorders
- Male transphobia (feeling as though your gender is different from the one assigned to you at birth)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), body dysmorphic disorder, and hoarding disorder are examples of obsessive-compulsive disorders
- Borderline personality disorder, avoidant personality disorders, and antisocial personality disorder
- Acute stress disorder, PTSD, and adjustment disorder are all trauma-related disorders
Is EMDR Therapy Effective?
According to the EMDR Institute research has shown that EMDR therapy demonstrates positive outcomes after only a few sessions. Research suggests that after just three 90-minute sessions, 84–90% of victims of a single event are free of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
Another study, funded by the HMO Kaiser Permanente, discovered that after just six 50-minute sessions, 100% of people who had experienced a single trauma and 77% of people who had had several traumas were no longer classified as having PTSD. In another study, after 12 sessions, 77% of combat veterans were PTSD symptom-free.
This kind of therapeutic intervention is also unique in that the therapist does not engage the client in dialogue as it is being delivered. EMDR is not talking therapy in this sense. In addition to EMDR therapy, there are other types of therapy suitable for those struggling with anxiety, PTSD, panic attacks, and/or trauma. Combining EMDR therapy with other types of therapy is common and shows positive outcomes too.
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