Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, usually known as EMDR
Most of the time, your body routinely manages new information and experiences without you being aware of it. However, when something out of the ordinary occurs and you are traumatized by an overwhelming event (e.g. a car accident) or by being repeatedly subjected to distress (e.g. childhood neglect), your natural coping mechanisms can become overloaded.
This overloading can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in your brain or being "unprocessed". Such unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in your brain in an "unprocessed " and emotional form, rather than in a verbal “story” mode. Trauma memories are held in an isolated memory network that is associated with emotions and physical sensations, away from the brain’s cortex where we use language to store and understand memories.
These traumatic memories can be triggered when you experience events similar to the difficult experiences you have been through. Often the memory itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger or despair are continually triggered in the present. Your ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can therefore be impacted. A key part of EMDR which is different than other therapies is that you can choose how much of the disturbing memories you wish to share with the therapist. In EMDR you are encouraged not to focus on retelling events to the therapist and instead to choose to an image to focus on, think about the impact of that memory on you now and with the tapping to allow your brain to process the traumatic memory.
The goal of EMDR therapy is to properly process these traumatic memories, reducing their impact and developing coping mechanisms. This is done by addressing the past, present, and future aspects of a unprocessed memory, requiring recollection of distressing events while receiving bilateral sensory input such as tapping, sounds, visual input.
What is EMDR used for?
EMDR was initially developed for both single traumatic events such as a car accident and on-going traumatic events such as child abuse/neglect, or bullying that impact one’s sense of themselves. EMDR has been recommended by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
Increasingly, EMDR therapy is also being used for the treatment of other issues including:
phobias and fears
Benefits of EMDR include:
A reduction in re-experiencing trauma memories
Feeling more able to cope with and manage trauma memories without needing to avoid potential triggers
Feeling more able to engage in and enjoy pleasurable activities and relationships.
Reduced feelings of stress, anxiety, irritation and hypervigilance - allowing you to rest well, address pressure and/or conflict and go about your daily business without feeling fearful and prone to panic
Reduced feelings of isolation, hopelessness and depression
A boost in self-confidence and self-esteem
What can I expect from an EMDR therapy session?
In the initial phase, your therapist works with you to develop goals and gain an understanding of your history. After a thorough assessment and development of a treatment plan, you and your therapist will decide if EMDR is a good form of treatment for you, providing you with time and space to understand the process and ask any questions.
Next your therapist will spend some time going through relaxation exercises and developing a calm place in your mind, this can be returned to at difficult times in the session as well as be applied between sessions.
Then your therapist will target specific distressing memories with left-right stimulation such as taps or sounds. To start with you will be asked to select an image to represent the event and then to think about positive and negative thoughts related to this image, the amount of distress you feel and where you feel it in your body. Your therapist will then use bilateral taps in a series of 'sets' lasting around 25 seconds. After each set, you will be asked for feedback on your experience. Your therapist may also ask you to return to the original memory and ask you how it seems to you now. This will continue until your distress has cleared (or is reduced as much as possible) and you are experiencing more positive thoughts and feelings. Your therapist will work with you re-evaluate the on-going impact of the memory and decide when it is time to move on to the next target.
During EMDR treatment, you will remain in control, fully alert and wide-awake. This is not a form of hypnosis and you can stop the process at any time. Throughout the session, the therapist will support and facilitate your own self-healing and intervene as little 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.
How will I feel after my session?
The nature of EMDR means that after your session the treatment will continue to be active in your awareness. This means that you may find yourself thinking about the thoughts you focused on during your session and you may feel the same emotions you experienced during your session. To help you through this process, allow yourself time and space to relax after an EMDR session and utilise the relaxation techniques you have learnt. Make sure you discuss your feelings with your therapist in your next session. While everyone is different, over time these feelings will generally become less intense and many people say they feel a strong sense of relief after their sessions.