August 12th, 2020

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy: An introduction

By Dan Whale

  • Self-esteem
  • Specific Phobia
  • Therapy
  • Trauma/PTSD

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a form of psychotherapy most commonly used to treat the symptoms of trauma and PTSD. It’s very unique, using eye movement stimulation to help the brain reprocess really difficult events, and it has been proven to be incredibly effective in helping people feel more like themselves again.

Why might a therapist suggest EMDR?

If you have been through a traumatic experience you might be experiencing things like flashbacks and nightmares, you may also be avoiding certain people/locations or finding it impossible to relax. These are completely normal responses to trauma and the kind of symptoms that EMDR can really help.

Aside from trauma, if you are struggling with a particular phobia or perhaps have difficulties with your self-esteem due to past experiences, EMDR could also be a good option.

Most importantly, therapy is a collaborative process. Your therapist will describe different therapeutic approaches and you can both decide together what would work best for you.

How it works

When we experience a traumatic and distressing event, our brains often struggle to fully process what has happened. The memory becomes ‘stuck’, remaining very vivid and intense and, understandably, causing strong emotional responses, even long after the event has taken place.

The point of EMDR is to help your brain reprocess this memory (or memories) so they don’t have such a strong, negative, emotional effect. It does so by following a series of steps. Your therapist will give you an overview of these steps before guiding you through them.

Step 1 - History: Your therapist will want to learn about what you are experiencing and what you want to overcome. Often when we’ve experienced trauma the last thing we want to do is talk about it, but by giving broad information as to what happened (you can omit particularly difficult details at this point) your therapist can develop a tailored treatment plan.

Step 2 - Stress reduction techniques: Your therapist will teach you different ways of managing emotional distress. These can be used during and in between sessions.

Step 3 - Desensitisation and reprocessing: After steps 1 and 2, the following sessions will focus on you recalling the traumatic event/s and how they make you feel both physically and emotionally, whilst moving your eyes side to side (usually following your therapist’s hand). Though it’s known as ‘Eye Movement’ Desensitisation and Reprocessing, other options include a tone being repeatedly played in one ear then the other, or repeatedly tapping alternate sides of your body.

This process is similar to what occurs in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) when we sleep, where the movement of our eyes helps our brains process what has happened that day. Some have theorised that this technique is so effective as it gives your brain an activity to do whilst recalling the trauma, which weakens the memory’s intensity. As it becomes less vivid, it’s easier for you to manage effectively and change any unhelpful self beliefs that are associated with it (for example feeling ashamed, guilty, or like you did something wrong).

Step 4 - Evaluation: Finally, you’ll be asked to evaluate your progress after the sessions you’ve had. Your therapist may ask you to regularly note down how you’re feeling throughout your therapeutic journey so that your progress becomes easier to measure.

What we know so far

Studies on EMDR suggest that it is a highly effective form of treatment for PTSD and trauma. For many people, just two or three sessions can have a long-lasting positive effect. People who have experienced multiple traumatic events or neglect in childhood may require a few more.

Certain studies have shown that 84%-90% of those that have experienced a single traumatic event exhibited no symptoms of PTSD after just three 90 minute sessions. Another study showed that after six 50 minute sessions, 100% of single-trauma patients and 77% of multiple-trauma patients no longer met the threshold/criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD. Over 30 controlled studies have shown EMDR to produce positive, long-lasting results.

It’s not a guaranteed solution, but EMDR has shown itself to be a very promising option for those wanting to process/manage the distressing experiences of a traumatic event and feel like their best Self more often.

If you think EMDR could be a good option for you, we can connect you to a clinical psychologist that specialises in this type of approach. If you’d like to learn more, contact us today at hello@helloself.com.

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