Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) was developed by Francine Shapiro in 1987 and is a therapeutic method that now receives worldwide recognition, particularly in the field of trauma. Approximately 20 controlled studies have investigated the effects of EMDR. These studies have consistently found that EMDR effectively decreases / eliminates the symptoms of post traumatic stress for the majority of clients. Since 2001 the Department of Health has supported its use (1). Clients often report improvement in other associated symptoms such as anxiety.
EMDR uses eye movements and other stimuli to facilitate rapid processing of traumatic or upsetting past events that have been causing distressing symptoms.
What happens in a session?
The brain has a natural ability to heal psychological and emotional upset. It has been hypothesised that there is an information processing system that naturally promotes the assimilation and healing of negative emotional experiences and traumas (2). While walking through the woods one day, Shapiro happened to notice that her own negative emotions lessened as her eyes darted from side to side. Then, she found the same positive effect in patients.
During a session you will be asked to focus on a memory, related to the issue, with its associated physical sensation and related negative thoughts – whilst moving your eyes from side to side. (If you have eye problems other methods can be used to have the same effect). The eye movements seem to allow the memory or anxiety to be processed within the brain and whilst the method can’t wipe away a memory, the emotional charge and negative beliefs often become detached from it.
How does EMDR work?
Exactly how EMDR works is not really known. We do know from memory and brain research that painful or traumatic experiences are stored in a different part of the brain than pleasant or neutral ones. Normally, when we're troubled by something, we think about it, talk about it, perhaps dream about it and eventually we are able to come to some sort of resolution. Something happens that interrupts this process when we experience a trauma or very painful event. Instead, the traumatic material gets 'stuck' in the brain and does not get processed as normal memories do. It's as though it is sealed off from the healthy, functioning brain.
What researchers think is that EMDR in some way is able to 'nudge' these memories so that they neurologically reconnect with the healthy brain and then is reprocessed and integrated. The most popular theory is that when the eyes move back and forth it creates brain activity similar to that which occurs during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. It's during this REM phase (when we dream) that we resolve conflicts, process information and consolidate learning and memory. More simply put, information processing takes place. By creating similar brain activity, while thinking about the painful event, it appears that EMDR is able to help the brain finally process the 'stuck' material, enabling the person to arrive at a resolution. The painful event or trauma becomes an unfortunate memory but is no longer produces the emotional pain that it did before.
What is EMDR used for?
Although EMDR is well known for its use for PTSD, especially with war veterans in both the USA and UK, it is also applied to the following conditions:
- Panic attacks
- Eating disorders
- Anxiety, such as discomfort with public speaking or dental procedures
I incorporate EMDR into my practice and use it when appropriate. The fee is the same as my hypnotherapy fee.
1. United Kingdom Department of Health (2001). Treatment choice in psychological therapies and counselling evidence based clinical practice guideline. London, England.
2. Shapiro F (2001) Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing: Basic Principals, Protocols and Procedures The Guilford Press