Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)
What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a fast and effective treatment for trauma memories.
Studies have shown that EMDR can be more effective and efficient in resolving trauma compared with other psychological or psychiatric treatment, including medication. It is recommended by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) for the treatment of trauma alongside Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
During EMDR the client is guided to deliberately bring into conscious awareness the sensory memory, their thoughts, and the accompanying emotions and bodily sensations of their trauma. Clients need to be willing to experience the emotions and body sensations that accompany the recall of a distressing memory and associated thoughts.
By following the moving fingers of the therapist, the client’s eyes move rapidly for a brief period, around 30 seconds. This produces a distinctive and naturally occurring pattern of electrical activity in the brain, which causes the stored trauma memory to quickly change. The exact mechanisms in the brain which cause the memory to change have not yet been discovered, but the regions of the brain involved with sensory storage, emotional activation and reasoning all become more active, with changed patterns of nerve cell firing.
During the eye movement the therapist does not talk or offer suggestions. The client does not try to change any aspect of the memory, and is asked to just notice the experience, to observe their memory, emotions, bodily sensations and thoughts. At the end of each set of eye movements the client is then asked to report their present experience. It may be that the sensory memory becomes less detailed or less vivid, and clients often report that the memory has become quite distant. Commonly the emotional or bodily sensations reduce in intensity quite quickly. If other associations are observed, they are shared with the therapist. Further sets of eye movement follow.
Once the trauma memory no longer triggers feelings of distress, the client is asked to associate a more useful thought to the now more distant trauma memory, and further sets of eye movements follow. The EMDR process is complete when the new perspective feels true even when the old memory is recalled. This entire process may take as little as ten minutes, or as long as a full session or several sessions. Where there are several different experiences underlying the client’s difficulties, it may take a number of sessions to fully resolve them.
EMDR is not suitable for all clients. Some clients need additional help in developing skills in managing and reducing emotional arousal. Whilst EMDR looks simple, there are many important procedural steps for the therapist to follow. It takes a long period of closely supervised training to fully train an EMDR therapist.
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