What is EMDR used for?
Simply put, EMDR is used to treat psychological trauma. This could be so-called shock trauma involving a sudden, single episodic threat or catastrophic event such as a tsunami, tornado, flood, rape, war, assault and violence. The other form of trauma is Developmental Trauma – ‘adverse life experiences’ which may be rooted in a childhood experience or in a past event or relationship, which happen over time and affects your neurological system. Some examples are neglect, abandonment, or emotional abuse. These adverse life events affect our sense of self, our self-esteem, self-definition, our confidence and our choices.
When someone experiences such trauma, those memories are often stored and locked away in their central nervous system. Left unprocessed, over time, these memories remain ‘stuck’ beneath the unconscious realm and they are not able to truly heal from the trauma they have experienced.
For some, these stuck memories manifest in unexplained anxiety, irrational guilt, flashbacks, phobias, avoidance behaviours, co-dependency issues, addictions and other maladaptive behaviours.
For such issues, talk therapy alone may not be effective and this is where the use of EMDR can to truly heal from the original trauma and move beyond their past.
How does EMDR work?
We don’t fully understand the neurobiological underpinnings of how EMDR therapy works. Initially, Dr. Francine Shapiro, the founder of EMDR, discovered that saccadic eye movements (i.e. rhythmic side-to-side movements of the eyes) ed to activate the information processing system which possesses the dysfunctionally stored memories around a traumatic event.
Effectively, EMDR therapy ‘decouples’ pain from the memory, enabling the client to ‘de-sensitise’ from the hurtful memories. This then s you to review the events with a more potent, balanced and empowered disposition allowing re-processing for complete resolution.
The primary goal of EMDR therapy is to decompress the negative self-beliefs and thoughts and uncomfortable physical sensations, that hinder true healing from the effects of past traumas.
EMDR is an integrative therapy which combines different elements of many effective therapies to maximize treatment effects. It is a rapid form of trauma desensitisation and adaptive resolution. Many individuals live with years of painful memories and subconsciously, bring these issues into their present and future.
EMDR uses a procedure that reduces the intensity of the traumatic images. This process reduces the emotional response to the disturbing memoriess.
EMDR therapy seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes a traumatic or painful memory and information, similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. In REM sleep, the brain’s natural healing process s to make sense of, and integrate, experiences into adaptive learning. Disturbing moments or experiences become stuck in the brain’s memory networks as they were originally experienced, continuing to negatively influence beliefs about self, relationships, and life.
The brain’s information processing system is blocked or out of balance, developing psychological and emotional wounds that can fester and cause suffering. When these blocks in the brain’s memory networks are removed, healing occurs just as it does for the body. EMDR trained clinicians use procedures, skills and resources to clients activate their natural healing processes, without the need for sharing details or doing homework.
In EMDR, therapists use two measurement scales to determine if the traumatic memories have been fully reprocessed. Because of these measurements, it is possible to develop statistical designs for empirical research. This led to another of Dr. Shapiro’s greatest contributions; her insistence on research, which has led to over 200 scientific studies in peer-reviewed journals which deal with the treatment of medically unexplained pain. There are also a number of controlled studies which support the efficacy of EMDR in treating trauma, with a success rate of more than 80% in some studies.
Please note that EMDR is NOT hypnosis. Clinical hypnotherapy is a different treatment modality altogether. Please refer to the section on clinical hypnotherapy under the Psychological Treatments menu for more information.
What is an EMDR session like?
EMDR is an 8-phase protocol.
The first session will entail assessment and case conceptualisation to come to a treatment plan based on your unique issues
In the second session, I will proceed to do the installation of positive resources for coping with stress in preparation for EMDR with you.
During the third session, we will commence with accessing the network of memories targeted for re-processing. This will be followed during the fourth session by bilateral stimulation using my hands in a rhythmic fashion which your eyes will follow. This s reprocess painful memories for adaptive resolution. This means that negative content is being discharged from where it has been stored.
When these negative and painful memories have been reprocessed this is akin to emptying a dirty glass of water. We will use the two measurement scales mentioned above (known as the Subjective Units of Disturbance Scale, or SUDS, and the Validity of Cognition Scale, or VOC) to see if all your traumatic memories have been reprocessed fully. I will then ask you to do a mental scan of your body to determine if there is any residual disturbance left in your body. This is also processed by bilateral stimulation.
Finally, we will go through phases of closure and re-evaluation to complete the EMDR process.
It is important to note that the time needed for all these steps will vary from person to person. It all depends on the extent of the trauma and the period over which it occurred. There is no standard timeline for this process. However, you can, and should, take all the time you need to complete your recovery and healing.