What is EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing
EMDR therapy or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy is an extensively researched, effective psychotherapy method proven to help people recover from trauma and other distressing life experiences, including PTSD, complex trauma, anxiety, grief and loss and panic disorders. EMDR therapy is a form of psychotherapy developed by Francine Shapiro in 1988.
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).
Mind Wellness Therapy offers professional EMDR therapy Auchenflower by a qualified EMDR therapist.
EMDR is based on the concept that psychopathology is a disorder of memory. As you resolve the memory, you resolve the psychopathology. It is less focused on talking and relies on the person being treated bringing an internal awareness to the distressing memory.
The therapist then directs the patient to a form of bilateral stimulation which might include side-to-side eye movements or hand tapping. This therapy [EMDR] is based on an understanding that negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours are the result of unprocessed memories and the intervention accesses the brain’s natural processes to support its ability to resume its inherent healing processes.
This process is activated through standardized procedures that include focusing simultaneously on:
- spontaneous associations of traumatic images, thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations and;
- bilateral stimulation that is most commonly in the form of repeated eye movements.
For many clients, EMDR therapy can be completed in fewer sessions than other psychotherapies.
How Does EMDR Work?
There are a number of theories about how EMDR works but the one that makes most sense to me, goes like this:
When we experience something very overwhelming, the level of emotional distress causes the event to be stored in a part of the emotional brain activated by “threat” ( amygdala-hippocampal ). This is the part that reacts with fight, flight or freeze as an instinctual ( survival ) response to a dangerous world. When the trauma memory is triggered by some reminder of the overwhelming event, the emotional brain is activated, shutting down the rational, thinking part of the brain which is oriented to the present.
This explains why when we get triggered, we can’t think, we feel overwhelmed and the traumatic event continues to affect us — with nightmares, flashbacks, and feelings that the trauma is happening again — long after the actual event:
Because the thinking, rational brain has been forced offline, we are unable to tell the difference between “then” and “now” and act as if we are still in danger. “Stuck” memories are thought to be unprocessed and maladaptively stored.
During sleep, we naturally process and consolidate memories from the hippocampus to the neocortex. Normal, less traumatic memories, don’t get “stuck”, because at night when we dream (Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep), these are moved out of the amygdala-hippocampal and processed by the adaptive information system of the brain resulting in fully processed memories. This is one of the reasons we feel so much better after a good night’s sleep.
Neuroscientists propose that EMDR mimics the process that occurs during REM sleep (when we are dreaming).
During EMDR, the therapist uses bilateral stimulation to move your eyes from side to side while getting you to focus on a part of the traumatic memory or emotion: Much like when your eyes move from side to side when you dream.
This suggests that during EMDR therapy the traumatic memories are continuously reactivated, replayed and encoded into the adaptive memory networks of the prefrontal cortex. In other words, it helps traumatic memories become “unstuck” and processed like normal, non traumatic memories. Once this occurs, the traumatic event loses the intense, emotional reactions that characterize post-traumatic stress or trauma and you are able to choose your actions rather than feeling powerless over your reactions.
What kinds of conditions can benefit from EMDR therapy?
While EMDR has become a world leading evidence based treatment for trauma, ongoing studies are demonstrating its effectiveness as a treatment for many mental health problems where physical symptoms may be resulting from unprocessed memories of traumatic events.
One area of growth is the treatment of anxiety and anxiety related issues such as panic attacks and phobias. While many anxiety treatments help you deal with the symptoms of anxiety, EMDR therapy can help you address the root cause of your anxiety or fear.
When utilized as an add-on treatment, there is also proof that EMDR therapy can help with comorbid symptoms and chronic pain, including depression, mood swings and addiction.
Some of the important areas that EMDR therapy has been demonstrated to be helpful include:
- Childhood trauma or complex trauma (multiple, often related traumatic experiences)
- Trauma or PTSD
- Chronic Pain
- Unresolved grief
- Social Anxiety
- Addiction including eating disorders where changing the narrative/inner dialogue you have about your self, actions and choices is a fundamental feature underlying the disorder.
- Phobias or fears
How many sessions will I need?
The number of EMDR sessions required to address your symptoms will vary depending on the complexity of your psychopathology and the degree of protective factors available to you.
For example, EMDR treatment can work very rapidly for the client who has only experienced a single incident trauma. A psychologically healthy person who has had a supportive childhood, no history of drug or alcohol abuse, and generally happy intimate relationships with loved ones, is likely to respond to treatment very quickly.
However people who have been exposed to multiple, often interrelated forms of traumatic experiences as in complex trauma, will generally require longer treatment. Adults presenting with trauma that began in childhood, who were perpetrated by persons within formative attachment relationships and whose trauma was compounded by co-morbidities of mental illness, addiction, domestic violence and a host of other stresses are likely to need longer therapy. Good therapy helps your brain and your nervous system to learn, develop insights and problem solve. But a brain that is dealing with a multitude of stressors will often take longer to achieve these developed capacities.
Read more about EMDR therapy in Brisbane
Mind Wellness Therapy provides EMDR therapy and psychological expertise in the treatment of anxiety, PTSD, trauma, grief, stress management, depression and more.