Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)

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EMDR Therapy: A Powerful New Technique for Treating Trauma

EMDR therapy is an intriguing form of therapy that’s quickly gaining popularity amongst therapists and clients all over the world. However, it works differently from most conventional therapies and may seem a bit ‘out there’! Why? As you may have guessed from the name, EMDR relies on eye movements for its therapeutic effect. This means that during therapy your health practitioner would typically move their finger or hand from side to side across your field of vision, asking you to track this with your eyes. As strange as this may sound, research is suggesting that this strategy can be an incredibly powerful treatment strategy. Read on to learn more!

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR is a form of psychotherapy that requires you to focus on a traumatic memory whilst the therapist directs you to track your eyes from side to side. Some therapists also use other strategies – hand tapping, beeping and flashing lights – to get you to shift your attention from side to side.

During this process, you will also be taught ways to manage distressing feelings that may arise when you’re thinking about a trauma. You would also learn to replace negative thought patterns with healthier ideas. Through this process, you would develop a greater sense of being able to control how you respond to traumatic memories.

How was EMDR invented?

A psychologist called Francis Shapiro was inspired to develop EMDR following a walk through the woods, during which she was mulling over some distressing thoughts. As she looked from side to side, taking in her surroundings, she experienced a sense of emotional release; and she guessed that this may have something to do with her eye movements. After trialing this technique with her own clients, she found that this also enabled them to feel more at peace; and this motivated her to develop EMDR as a therapeutic technique.

Expectations during EMDR therapy

Each session lasts between 60 and 90 minutes. The number of sessions required varies according to the needs of the client, but on average one can expect between 5 and 15 sessions, making EMDR a quick and cost-effective alternative to traditional forms of therapy. The treatment is generally divided into 8 phases:

  • Phase 1 is focused on history taking. Your therapist will assess your readiness to start therapy and together you’ll decide on a memory to focus on.
  • Phase 2 is the preparation stage. The clinician will teach you various coping strategies. Such as mindfulness meditation and deep breathing – to use during and between sessions.
  • Phases 3 to 6 involve the actual EMDR treatment. You will be asked to focus on a specific memory while tracking the therapist’s bilateral hand movements. After each set of stimulation, you will be asked to let your mind go blank and to observe any thoughts, feelings or images that spontaneously arise. Over time, the negative thought will elicit less and less distress. Your therapist will guide you in replacing negative thoughts with more realistic and helpful ones.
  • Phase 7 requires you to keep a week-long record of any events, thoughts or feelings that arise in relation to your traumatic memory.
  • Phase 8 is a chance for you and your clinician to evaluate the treatment.

Who is EMDR therapy for?

EMDR effectively treats PTSD in children and adults who have experienced trauma, such as witnessing death, robbery, or surviving abuse. It has also addressed other health concerns, including depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, and eating disorders. However, more research is needed to determine whether EMDR should be recommended for disorders beyond PTSD.

EMDR appeals to those seeking trauma resolution without delving deeply into the event. It prioritizes the emotions stemming from a traumatic experience, minimizing discussion of specific details. Beyond that, EMDR works faster than other forms of therapy; and there’s no homework given, as with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Clients find the recovery more internal and less reliant on therapist-guided interpretations, making therapy more empowering.

Is EMDR Effective?

The research seems to be giving a resounding: “Yes – EMDR works!” For example, multiple studies have been performed (including randomized controlled trials – the goal standing for evaluating medical treatment) to show that EMDR is effective in managing symptoms and improving people’s quality of life.

Major organizations, such as the American Psychiatric Association, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, and the World Health Organization, endorse EMDR. To ensure its effectiveness, the client must be suitable (your therapist will guide this decision), and the psychologist should be an accredited EMDR practitioner.

How does EMDR work?

There are several, rather complex theories which make sense of this mysterious therapy’s effectiveness. According to one theory, an EMDR session temporarily moves a trauma memory from its storage location in your long-term memory to your working memory (which is a form of short term memory). In doing this, you working memory is carrying a lot of information, including your therapist’s instructions, your eyes that are moving side to side and, of course, the difficult memory that you are trying to hold!

Overloading your working memory is beneficial, reducing the intensity and negative emotions of traumatic memories. Your therapist guides you, linking positive thoughts and feelings to the traumatic memory, making it more benign before storing it in long-term memory.

Another theory relates to sleep. During Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the brain processes daily information, but trauma can disrupt this. This can cause nightmares and interrupting REM sleep. EMDR, mimicking REM with eye movements, aims to facilitate proper trauma processing.

Final Thoughts

EMDR therapy is a bit unusual – there’s no doubt about that. For some, it brings to mind images of an 18th century charlatan soothsayer, swinging a pendulum back and forth. If so, your skepticism is understandable. However, don’t let EMDR’s apparent strangeness fool you. As we have seen today, more and more research is showing that EMDR can be a highly effective technique, especially for PTSD. If you’re struggling with traumatic memories and would like an effective, relatively fast and safe way of getting some support, speak to a psychologist near you about the possibility of starting EMDR in Melbourne.

Call The Three Seas Psychology now to book an appointment (03) 9809 1000, or BOOK ONLINE

Locations: CBD | KNOX | RICHMOND

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Mon — Fri 8.30am – 8.30pm

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