EMDR stands for Eye Movement and Desensitisation Reprocessing. It was developed by American Psychologist Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s. The aim of EMDR therapy is to relieve your psychological distress and the physical symptoms associated with it.
The aim of EMDR therapy is to relieve your psychological distress and the physical symptoms associated with it. This may involve working with traumatic memories or, anticipatory anxiety, such as phobias. EMDR uses eye movements or other bilateral stimulation (ie touch or sound) to reduce or eliminate the intensity of disturbing thoughts and/or bodily sensations related to past trauma or anticipated trauma. In the UK it is recommended in the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and more information can be found here. Sometimes clients ask if EMDR is a form of hypnosis because it uses eye movements. However, it is NOT hypnosis as during therapy you will be fully alert and in control, being able to stop the therapy at any time you choose to. EMDR cannot be done against your will.
Exactly how EMDR works is uncertain but a number of controlled studies have consistently reported improvements with clients’ anxiety symptoms after treatment. One suggestion is that EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Traumatic events can be stored as if they are still a current threat because the brain has not fully processed them as belonging in the past. EMDR therapy aids the reprocessing of such disturbing memories so you no longer relive the unpleasant symptoms such as flashbacks, or palpitations, attached to the original event.
Research and controlled studies have shown that EMDR decreases symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress for the majority of people. According to the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) clinicians have also reported successful outcomes in the following areas:
phobias - panic attacks - disturbing memories - eating disorders - performance anxiety - stress reduction - complicated grief
How many sessions of EMDR therapy will vary according to the complexity of your case which will be discussed with your therapist at your first meeting. Also, at your first session you will complete a number of questionnaires to ensure EMDR is an appropriate therapy for your symptoms. There will also help you and your therapist to agree the focus for therapy going forward.
Once your target memories have been assessed and agreed your therapist will ask you to recall a particular memory along with your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations (e.g. palpitations, tight jaw etc) that go with it. At Tarring Psychotherapy we use a light bar to create the eye movements similar to REM sleep. If there is any discomfort with eye movements your therapist will use either hand held buzzers or headphones instead.
After each set of eye movements your therapist will ask you to report back on your experience. This may include changes in your thoughts, images, feelings or bodily sensations. Sets are then repeated until you experience the memory as less disturbing in the present. People often report that the memory seems to fade or become more distant.
Your brain may continue to reprocess the memory between sessions so your therapist will coach you in some self-soothing techniques to help you manage any new insights or thoughts that arise. You will also be given a diary sheet so you can make a note of anything that comes up to discuss at your next meeting.
This protocol will continue until the target memories have been successfully reprocessed and are no longer causing you high levels of psychological distress.
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