Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapeutic approach developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s.
Initially designed for individuals with PTSD, EMDR has since been adapted to treat various mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, and phobias. EMDR is recognised as an effective treatment for PTSD by the American Psychological Association, the World Health Organisation, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, among others.
How EMDR Therapy Works
EMDR therapy is based on the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model, which posits that psychological distress occurs when traumatic memories are inadequately processed and stored in the brain. EMDR therapy aims to help individuals reprocess these memories, allowing for more adaptive and functional storage, ultimately reducing the emotional impact of the traumatic event.
During EMDR therapy, the therapist guides the client through eight distinct phases, which include:
History taking and treatment planning: In this phase, the therapist gathers information about the client's history, including past traumas and current symptoms. This information helps the therapist create a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to the client's needs.
Preparation: The therapist establishes a strong therapeutic alliance with the client and teaches them coping strategies to manage emotional distress during the therapy process. These strategies may include relaxation techniques, mindfulness exercises, and grounding techniques.
Assessment: The therapist identifies the target memory, along with the associated emotions, physical sensations, and negative beliefs. The client and therapist also identify a desired positive belief to replace the negative one.
Desensitisation: The client focuses on the traumatic memory while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements, tapping, or auditory tones. This process helps the client reprocess the memory, reducing its emotional intensity.
Installation: The therapist guides the client in strengthening the desired positive belief associated with the trauma. The client continues to engage in bilateral stimulation, which helps consolidate the new belief in the brain.
Body scan: The therapist asks the client to perform a body scan, identifying any residual bodily sensations or discomfort related to the traumatic memory. If any discomfort remains, the desensitisation and installation processes are repeated until the sensations have subsided.
Closure: The therapist ensures that the client feels stable and emotionally regulated at the end of the session. The client may be encouraged to use the coping strategies learned during the preparation phase to manage any lingering emotions or memories between sessions.
Revaluation: At the beginning of each subsequent session, the therapist re-evaluates the client's progress and determines the need for further treatment. The therapist and client may discuss any new insights, memories, or symptoms that have arisen since the last session.
Benefits of EMDR Therapy
EMDR therapy offers several benefits for individuals with PTSD, including:
Effectiveness: EMDR has been shown to be effective in reducing PTSD symptoms and improving overall mental health in numerous clinical trials and meta-analyses.
Efficiency: EMDR therapy often requires fewer sessions than traditional talk therapy, leading to faster recovery and reduced costs.
Non-reliance on verbalisation: EMDR does not require clients to provide detailed verbal accounts of their traumatic experiences, making it suitable for individuals who struggle with verbal expression or fear traumatisation.
Holistic approach: EMDR therapy addresses not only the cognitive and emotional aspects of trauma but also the physical sensations and negative beliefs associated with the traumatic event, leading to a more comprehensive healing process.
What to Expect During an EMDR Session
During an EMDR session, the therapist will guide the client through the eight phases of treatment. The most notable aspect of EMDR therapy is the use of bilateral stimulation during the desensitisation phase. The therapist may ask the client to follow their fingers or a moving object with their eyes or provide tactile or auditory stimulation. This bilateral stimulation is believed to facilitate the reprocessing of traumatic memories by engaging both hemispheres of the brain.
EMDR therapy can be intense, and clients may experience heightened emotions or vivid memories during sessions. However, the therapist will provide coping strategies and support to help clients manage these experiences effectively.
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an effective and efficient treatment option for individuals with PTSD. By understanding the principles of EMDR therapy, individuals can make informed decisions about whether this form of therapy may be suitable for their PTSD treatment. EMDR therapy has been shown to provide significant relief from PTSD symptoms and improve overall mental health, making it a valuable option for those seeking recovery from trauma.