EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy. It is an entire therapy model that has been proven to be highly effective for those who have experienced trauma.
The mind can often heal itself naturally, in the same way as the body does. Much of this natural coping mechanism occurs during sleep, particularly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep occurs at intervals during the night and is characterized by rapid eye movements, more dreaming and bodily movement, and faster pulse and breathing.
Francine Shapiro developed Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) in 1987, utilising this natural process in order to successfully treat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Since then, EMDR has been used to effectively treat a wide range of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, and stress.
EMDR therapy is founded on the basis that our emotional well-being is interwoven with our physical (somatic) state. Therefore, EMDR employs a body-based technique called bilateral simulation during which a therapist will guide a client through eye movements, tones, or taps in order to move a memory that has been incorrectly stored to a more functional part of the brain.
During trauma or periods of stress, like childhood neglect, our brain processes and stores memories incorrectly. This incorrect storage can lead to past memories feeling very present. Related or unrelated triggers in the present can lead to clients reacting as they did at the time of trauma. The brain feels if the past disturbing event is happening now.
EMDR therapy corrects this mis-storage so that the painful memories associated with the trauma lose their charge. The client can react to stimuli in the present without the past interfering.
What is an EMDR session like?
EMDR utilises the natural healing ability of your body. After a thorough assessment, you will be asked specific questions about a particular memory. Eye movements, similar to those during REM sleep, will be recreated simply by asking you to watch the therapist’s finger moving backwards and forwards across your visual field. The eye movements will last for a short while and then stop. You will then be asked to report back on the experiences you have had during each of these sets of eye movements. Experiences during a session may include changes in thoughts, images and feelings.
With repeated sets of eye movements, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory of an event in the past. Other associated memories may also heal at the same time. This linking of related memories can lead to a dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of your life. Instead of eye movements we can also use sound or tapping.