Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing is a very unique therapy. It is deemed a powerful treatment that helps people recover from events that were traumatic to them, by helping the brain reprocess difficult memories. It is predominantly used as an alternative to the trauma focused protocols of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT-TF) another therapy that Quest Psychology regularly provides. It can be used with all ages and recently research is demonstrating that it can be used with other mental health problems such as eating disorders and attachment problems within relationships.
EMDR is split into 8 phases that include
During a traumatic event you may feel overwhelmed and as a result their brain might not be able to fully process what has happened. The memory can seem to become “stuck” and stay with you as a very intense and vivid experience. As a result, you may re-experience what you saw, heard and smelt to the extent that it is as distressing as the moment you went through the event each time you think about it.
EMDR helps reprocess this stuck memory properly so that it is not longer as intense. It also helps you desensitise to the emotional part of the memory so that you can think about it without re-experiencing it with the strong feelings it used to bring.
It does this after the right amount of preparation by asking the person to recall the traumatic event which moving their eyes from side to side, hearing a sound in each ear alternatively or feeling a tap on each hand alternatively. The side to side movements are what is called bilateral stimulation and it stimulates the processing part of the brain to reprocess the information like an ordinary memory and therefore reduces it’s intensity.
The bilateral stimulation replicates what naturally happens at night know as rapid eye movement sleep (REM). This is the part of sleep where our eyes move rapidly back and forth as we process the events of the day. Some research suggests that EMDR is effective because concentration on another task whilst processing the distressing memory gives our brain more work to do. When the brain is not giving its full attention to processing the memory it can start to become less vivid. This allows you to distance yourself from it and begin to remember the traumatic event in a more helpful and manageable way.
Whilst it might sound like a strange type of therapy. Studies have shown that when your mental health problems come from a distressing life event EMDR can be very effective very quickly. Studies have shown that EMDR can significantly decrease PTSD symptoms in just two or three sessions, and that the effect is long lasting (e.g. Ironson, Freund, Strauss, & Williams, 2002; Scheck, Schaeffer, & Gillette, 1998). People who have experienced several traumatic events, neglect or poor treatment as children usually need more sessions than this.
Whilst people can start feeling better after 2-3 sessions the totally number of sessions needed depends on the type and severity of trauma which you went through. The guidelines form National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) suggest most people need between 8-12 sessions.
EMDR is best known for its effectiveness in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is widely used by the NHS, charitable organisations and private sector, and the Ministry of Defence use EMDR to help service personnel with PTSD.
EMDR can also be used to help treat a variety of mental health problems like depression or anxiety, especially where a difficult life event has been involved. EMDR can be useful for people who have witnessed or experienced an event like a car accident, a violent crime, sexual or emotional abuse, bullying, a social humiliation or the sudden loss of a loved one, and are struggling to recover.
EMDR is suitable for adults, young people and children. Younger children can find it difficult to fully engage with some types of talking therapies, so EMDR can be an effective, simpler alternative.