Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is offered by a certified therapists as a clinically proven Trauma and Post Traumatic Distress (PTSD) Treatment. It may also be used to treat other issues that are causing personal upset or stress.
The theory behind EMDR is that many psychological difficulties are the result of distressing life experiences which have not been stored in memory properly and are unprocessed or blocked. These traumatic memories may need some help to become processed, and EMDR is one way to do this.
What is special about trauma memories?
Normal memories are stored by a part of the brain called the hippocampus. Think of this part of the brain as a well organized librarian.
The hippocampus (your library) catalogues (processes) events and stores them in the right place. However, some traumatic events (such as accidents, abuse, disasters, or violence) are so overwhelming that the hippocampus doesn’t do its job properly. (If the librarian had experienced what you did – she may have well have run out of the library screaming – leaving those experiences unprocessed!) When this happens memories linger in various regions of your brain in their raw, unprocessed, form. This is much like leaving random books around the library to trip over. These trauma memories are then easily triggered, leading them to replay and cause distress over and again. EMDR is much like getting a skilled librarian back to work – so those memories get processed, filed and shelved for access when YOU want to access them.
What will I be asked to do in an EMDR session?
Through a very careful and calculated process of steps guided by your therapist, you will be asked to think about various small pieces of your memories and feelings while you are tracking a moving object with your eyes – frequently just the hand movements of the therapist. You may alternatively be asked to listen to alternating beeps in a headset, or hold small alternative vibrating disks.
Why do I need to make eye movements or listen to sounds?
This side-to-side motion is called bilateral stimulation. It has been found to enhance memory processing and there are a number of theories explaining how it might do this. We use a form of bilateral stimulation that you are comfortable with (Sight, Sound or Feeling). This technique allows your brain to process the memories fully, so like a good library, the memories are sorted, categorized and put away. When this process is completed in your brain, the memories have no need to re-surface in unhealthy and uncomfortable ways.
What is EMDR used to treat?
This is very solid clinical evidence that EMDR is an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and it is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the World Helath Organization and others for PTSD. EMDR may be an effective treatment for other conditions, particularly if they involve trauma memories or other distressing memories. EMDR os used to treat survivors, witnesses and first responders of disasters such as 9/11.
How long does treatment take?
EMDR sessions are sometimes slightly longer than typical therapy sessions (up to 90 minutes). The number of sessions needed will depend on the type and severity of trauma which you experienced. NICE estimate that 8-12 sessions may be necessary to treat simpler traumas, with more sessions necessary for multiple traumas.
Here is a detailed article by the founder of EMDR, Francine Shapiro if you want to read more: How EMDR Therapy Opens a Window To The Brain
Francis Shapiro is the founder of EMDR – here is a brief video with her talking about treating PTSD nightmares that you may find interesting: