Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful, evidence based therapy that can help people to recover from the effects of distressing life experiences. It is a structured form of therapy that utilises bilateral stimulation (BLS) usually in the form of eye movements, tapping or auditory tones in order to accelerate the brain’s capacity to process and heal a troubling memory, thought, feeling, or phobia.
EMDR therapy is informed by the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model which sees memory networks as the basis of health and pathology. The AIP model proposes that high arousal states from adverse life experiences can overwhelm the brain’s natural ability to heal. The specific memories can then fail to get processed adequately and are stored in maladaptive memory networks in their original forms. Irrational beliefs and dysfunctional behaviours are merely symptoms of those unprocessed memories. The insight gained from positive life experiences, self-development and learning are stored separately in their own neural network. This often results in clients not being able to fully achieve the desired change in their thought patterns or behaviours even after developing a lot of self-awareness and having a real motivation for transformation.
EMDR aims to integrate the traumatic or distressing memories into adaptive memory networks which are the primary basis of self-esteem and positive resources. EMDR procedures seem to stimulate the information and allow the brain to reprocess the memory and other associated experiences. It is the client’s own brain that will be doing the healing and the client is the one in control. Some clients can experience relief or positive effects in just a few sessions and others need more sessions. EMDR is effective in treating trauma-related symptoms, whether the traumatic event occurred many years ago or yesterday.
EMDR therapy is considered a gold standard treatment for trauma, recommended by the World Health Organisation (2013) and National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) for children, adolescents and adults. Research has demonstrated that EMDR is effective for the treatment of post traumatic stress, phobias, panic disorder, anxiety disorders, depression, attachment disorder, childhood trauma and neglect, stress, sexual and physical abuse, disturbing memories, complicated grief and chronic pain.
Various studies have shown that general adverse life experiences, especially during early childhood have resulted in an equal or greater number of PTSD symptoms than major trauma. In those cases, EMDR therapy often results in the emergence of an adult perspective characterised by a sense of safety and control and a state of self-acceptance.
EMDR therapy is different from traditional psychotherapeutic approaches because it doesn’t require the client to talk in detail about the distressing issues. There is no homework to complete between sessions. As the therapeutic relationship is the part of the adaptive network, it is still important for clients to work with a practitioner who they feel they can trust and connect to. EMDR could be used as a stand-alone process, but can also be effectively integrated into other therapeutic approaches. EMDR therapy should only be practiced by mental health practitioners who have had additional accredited training in EMDR.