Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a trauma therapy that was developed by psychologist, Dr Francine Shapiro.
It is an extensively researched, effective psychology modality with a strong evidence base for helping people recover from trauma and other distressing life experiences, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, and panic disorders.
EMDR therapy is recognised and endorsed as an effective treatment by many national and international organisations, including the World Health Organisation, the American Psychiatric Association, and Phoenix (The Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health) and has been used for over 30 years.
How does EMDR therapy work?
Our brains have a natural way to recover from traumatic memories and events. This process involves communication between the amygdala (the alarm signal for stressful events), the hippocampus (which assists with learning, including memories about safety and danger), and the prefrontal cortex (which analyzes and controls behavior and emotion). While many times traumatic experiences can be managed and resolved spontaneously, they may not be processed without help.
Stress responses are part of our natural fight, flight, or freeze instincts. When distress from a disturbing event remains, the upsetting images, thoughts, and emotions may create feelings of overwhelm, of being back in that moment, or of being “frozen in time.” When activated, these memories cause a negative impact on our daily functioning and interfere with the way we see ourselves and our world, and how we relate to others.
EMDR therapy helps the brain process these memories, and allows normal healing to resume. The experience is still remembered, but the fight, flight, or freeze response from the original event is resolved. This enables you to access positive ways of reframing the original trauma (reprocessing), and to release the body’s stored negative emotional charges around it (desensitization).
EMDR therapy does not require talking in detail about the distressing issue or completing homework between sessions. EMDR therapy, rather than focusing on changing the emotions, thoughts, or behaviours resulting from the distressing issue, allows the brain to resume its natural healing process.
Clinical work with EMDR is a dance, and the client is the one who leads.Dr Francine Shapiro, founder of EMDR therapy
Who would benefit from EMDR Therapy?
EMDR-trained clinicians at Mindful Psychology use this therapy to successfully treat the following conditions:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Sexual and/or physical abuse
- Anxiety (for more info – anxiety counselling)
- Performance anxiety
- Panic attacks (for more info – anxiety counselling)
- Complicated grief (for more info – grief counselling)
- Depression (for more info – depression counselling)
Attention will be given to a negative image, belief, and body feeling related to this event, and then to a positive belief that would indicate the issue was resolved.
While the client focuses on the upsetting event, the therapist will begin sets of side-to-side eye movements, sounds, or taps (bilateral stimulation). The client will be guided to notice what comes to mind after each set. They may experience shifts in insight or changes in images, feelings, or beliefs regarding the event.
The client has full control to stop the therapist at any point if needed. The sets of eye movements, sounds, or taps are repeated until there is little or not disturbance in relation to the event.
A typical EMDR therapy session lasts 50 – 60 minutes, but sometimes your therapist may recommend longer sessions of up to 90 minutes. EMDR therapy may be used within a standard talking therapy, as an adjunctive therapy with a separate therapist, or as a treatment all by itself.
There are eight phases to EMDR therapy: initial history taking and treatment planning, preparation, assessment, desensitization, installation, body scan, closure, and then reevaluation. Your therapist can explain these phases to you in as much detail as you like.
EMDR therapy is designed to resolve unprocessed traumatic memories in the brain. For many clients, EMDR therapy can be completed in fewer sessions than other psychotherapies. However, the amount of therapy required will vary depending on the individual’s history and current emotional and psychological capacity.
Complete treatment of the targeted events involves a three pronged protocol to alleviate the symptoms and address the complete clinical picture:
- past memories
- present disturbance
- future actions
The goal of EMDR therapy is to process completely the experiences that are causing problems, and to include new ones that are needed for full health.
“Processing” does not mean talking about the events. “Processing” means setting up a learning state that will allow experiences that are causing problems to be “digested” and stored appropriately in your brain. That means that what is useful to you from an experience will be learned, and stored with appropriate emotions in your brain, and be able to guide you in positive ways in the future.
The inappropriate emotions, beliefs, and body sensations will be discarded. Negative emotions, feelings and behaviours are generally caused by unresolved earlier experiences that are pushing you in the wrong directions. The goal of EMDR therapy is to leave you with the emotions, understanding, and perspectives that will lead to healthy and useful behaviours and interactions.
Although EMDR therapy may produce results more rapidly than other forms of therapy, it is important to remember that every client has different needs. For instance, one client may take several weeks to establish sufficient feelings of trust (Phase 2), while another may proceed quickly through the first six phases of treatment only to reveal something underlying that needs treatment.
- EMDR should only be practiced by specially trained and certified therapists.
- EMDR may impair testimony in legal cases, because distress in relation to the incident/s is likely to be lessened.
- Special precautions will be taken in offering EMDR to people who are neurologically impaired, suicidal, experiencing psychosis, or have severe dissociative disorders or unstable substance abuse.