Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
What is EMDR?
EMDR is a powerful and effective psychological treatment. It is recommended for treating psychological trauma arising from diverse experiences, such as war related experiences, childhood abuse or neglect, to road traffic accidents and workplace accidents. Research also demonstrates benefits of using EMDR with a number of conditions to include anxiety disorders, depression and chronic pain. EMDR has been found to be effective with children and adults (see NICE guidelines). It is also effective for a variety of emotional and behavioural difficulties for both children and adults.
EMDR has been found to accelerate the healing process after a traumatic incident or adverse life experience. It does this by directly influencing the way the brain functions, helping to process information and restore balance. Memories of the event can still be recalled but no longer carry the emotional charge.
How does it work?
Trauma and the Brain
When an individual is traumatised, the brain can become overwhelmed by strong emotions. If the brain is consequently unable to cope with or process information in the way it usually does, distressing experiences become ‘frozen in time’. Such events are stored in the brain in their original ‘raw’ form and can then be repeatedly remembered as ‘action replays’ or intrusive memories. Even when the memory itself is long forgotten, feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger or despair can be continually triggered in the present. As a consequence, the ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can become inhibited, and original unpleasant events can be relived. Such experiences can impact how an individual perceives themselves and their world and keep behaviour stuck.
EMDR appears to mimic what the brain does naturally during dreaming or REM (Rapid Eye Movements) sleep. EMDR can be thought of as an inherently natural therapy which assists the brain in working through distressing material utilising a natural process, this is called Adaptive Information Processing. EMDR helps clients reprocess their traumatic memories by using a process that involves repeated left-right bilateral stimulation of the brain while noticing different aspects of the traumatic memory. It is believed that the bilateral stimulation of EMDR creates biochemical changes in the brain that aid processing of information. Bilateral stimulation can use eye movements (following the hand movements of the therapist) or alternative methods, such as tapping. The process can bring about rapid insights and links between previously experiences bodily sensations, emotions and memories.
How it differs from other therapies
EMDR does not require a detailed description of events, which can make it accessible to a wide range of people, particularly where language may be more problematic. It does not challenge dysfunctional beliefs as these are not seen as the consequence of maladaptively stored unprocessed memories, rather than the cause of stress. EMDR can be used alongside other therapies. It can be preferred by clients as it is generally of shorter duration than other treatment methods.
'Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.'