What is EMDR?
What does EMDR stand for?
EMDR stands for "Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing".
What is EMDR for?
EMDR is a psychotherapy technique which can help people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or those with traumatic disturbing memories such as those associated with complex grief. It can also be useful for people with anxiety disorders or a history of recurring depression and there is even a protocol to help those feeling stuck with recent traumatic events.
What happens in EMDR therapy and how long is therapy?
EMDR is based on a standardised 8 phase process. You will experience a period of assessment and psycho-education to help make sense of your experience and begin to identify possible "target memories" or "themes" that might benefit from EMDR "processing". It importantly also includes helping you to build a "toolbox" of resources and skills to help you cope with your current experience and any distress that may be brought up in therapy. However its worth noting here that you don't actually have to talk about all the details of your experiences if you don't want to, to benefit from EMDR! Once you and your therapist agree you are ready, you will then begin the stage of "processing" trauma memories with the therapist, with the aim of ultimately being able to recall the memory with less distress and being able to re-evaluate the experience and particularly yourself in a more positive way.
Sessions generally last from 60-90 minutes depending on what part of the process you are in. Everyone is different, so there is no set time scale for therapy. For some it can be a relatively rapid process, especially where perhaps there has been a single trauma. However for those who have experienced multiple traumas or have been affected for a long time they may benefit from more EMDR sessions or a combination of CBT and EMDR.
How does EMDR work?
Despite the reference to eye movements, it's not a form of hypnosis (you will not be in a trance but will be aware and in control) and it's not just about moving your eyes! EMDR activates memory processing and symptom reduction by using a protocol that includes "bilateral stimulation" of the brain" (I promise, no scary probes involved here!!!). This is achieved either by using alternating right/left eye movements, tactile sensations such as tapping, or audio stimulation with sound. This repeatedly activates the opposite sides of the brain, releasing emotional experiences that are "trapped" and assists the mind/body connection to free itself of blockages and reconnect itself. As troubling images and feelings are processed by the brain via the protocols and techniques used in EMDR, the issues are resolved and a more peaceful state is naturally achieved.
A simple analogy, is to think of the brain holding a library of stored memory files, a little bit like a computer or filing system; non-trauma memories are filed in the filing system's archive, some of which are retrievable, stories we can tell but that don't have a negative impact on us now. Sometimes we can experience something traumatic and given time and the right conditions the brain will manage to file it successfully so that it doesn't impact us now. However some trauma memory files can be stored in a fragmented and chaotic way, with overflowing old emotional content, with the memory not being "date stamped", re-categorised and archived properly. So, it's like that file at the back at the cabinet that's been stuffed with the documents "I don't know what to do with", "haven't got time to sort out" or "I can't deal with", that every time you open the filing cabinet drawer to do something else the contents of that file you're avoiding just fall out in a mess and you pick them up and shove them back in again..... until the next time something 'triggers' it to throw out a bunch of emotion.
The process of EMDR helps to move traumatic memories that the brain hasn't processed and filed, from an open, raw, very present feeling (and untidy) file to a closed past (more organised) file. EMDR does not remove the memory but 'shifts' it and 'archives' it differently. It will always be part of your life experience but clients report being better able to get a sense of "That was then, this is now". EMDR helps to reduce the present felt experience and put it in the past where it belongs so that you do not continue to suffer the current distressing symptoms that interfere with living now.
FLASH! Ah Ha! The Flash Technique....
The Flash Technique has been developed relatively recently as a therapeutic intervention for reducing emotional and physical disturbance associated with traumatic or other distressing memories.
It was originally developed to use in the preparation stage of EMDR to help in stabilisation before moving on to the processing phase. The technique is particularly useful where clients have difficulty engaging with painful memories as it is doesn’t require the client to consciously engage with the memory.
Eye movements or alternating tapping are still used and help the brain to process traumatic memories. It can be a quite rapid/brief process and can be used alongside regular EMDR, with exposure therapies to help reduce exposure-related disturbance and in CBT to increase receptiveness to healthier adult perspectives (overcoming that feeling of “stickiness” when your sense of intellectual/logical understanding and your emotional sense or belief don’t quite align)
I am able to utilise this in my therapy having completed both the basic and advanced training in the technique.
For more information about EMDR go to the EMDRIA website (EMDR Association UK and Ireland) HERE