EMDR is the psychological intervention called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. The intervention was founded and developed in the 1980’s by an American Clinical Psychologist, Francine Shapiro. Since this time, EMDR has drawn much attention for its effectiveness in treating trauma, particularly single episode traumatic events. Increasingly, scientific research and anecdotal evidence is supporting the use of EMDR for phobias, depression, complex PTSD, and dissociation. EMDR is a leading evidence based treatment for trauma, and is recommended by groups such as the World Health Organisation.
The treatment is based on the Adaptive Information Processing system which states that some events in an individuals’ life are not fully integrated into the usual memory network which would normally render the memory neutral. Instead, the memory of an event, including the beliefs, body sensations and feelings that were initially experienced during the event get maladaptively stored and can then be retriggered by present day situations. Depending on the severity/nature of the traumatic memory and emotion, this can cause an individual unnecessary distress in their current life due to the past events.
Processing memories in a safe, therapeutic environment
EMDR uses bilateral stimulation of the brain to access the memories, memory networks and associated sensations, negative thought process and emotions. The intervention enables the memory to be reprocessed in a safe, therapeutic environment that results in the neutralizing of the memory so that an individual may still be able to think about the past event, however not experience the distress previously associated with the event. While the therapeutic results are often quick, the client and therapist only work at a pace that is comfortable for the client, this is because some individuals often experience some anxiety and worry about addressing past events. The feedback from clients after a memory is fully processed in an EMDR session is usually one of positive relief. One specific benefit of this approach is that the client’s brain ‘does all the work’ and the therapist’s role is only to facilitate the process. In addition, you do not have to talk in great detail about the painful event in order to get relief from it.