Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing is a form of psychotherapy that was developed by Francine Shapiro. Through observation of how she was processing her own traumatic memories, Shapiro discovered that specific eye movements appeared to reduce her negative emotions associated with her traumatic memories. After extensively researching this area, she has concluded that eye movement assists clients in processing trauma, and has proposed that following a specific eight step treatment protocol will reduce the emotional disturbance caused by traumatic memories or imagined memories. Today EMDR is most commonly used in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is also regularly used in the treatment of other anxiety disorders, including phobias and social anxiety, as well as in treating depression. The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recommended EMDR as one of two recommended treatment approaches for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In PTSD the memory of a traumatic experience can feel like it is being relived, or as if it is happening again. When reliving the traumatic memories, sufferers of PTSD regularly report experiencing the same intense emotions and physical sensations they experienced during the actual trauma. This occurs as a result of the traumatic memory being improperly processed at the time of the event, and then stored in memory in an incomplete way. This process comes as a result of the body’s natural coping mechanisms being overwhelmed at the time of the traumatic event. The unprocessed memories and the accompanying sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings that are stored in the memory , can be accessed and activated unexpectedly each time someone with PTSD experiences something that triggers a recollection of the original event. EMDR therapy can be used to help properly process the traumatic memories, thus making them easier to manage. Some of the most common benefits of EMDR include a reduction in re-experiencing trauma memories; reduced emotional distress; reduced hypervigilance and irritation; reduced depression, hopelessness and isolation; and increased pleasure from activities, occupation and relationships.
So how does EMDR work?
The therapy uses an eight-phase approach addressing the past, present and future aspects of a stored memory. The therapy consists of having to recall a traumatic event meanwhile receiving one of several types of bilateral sensory input such as: side-to-side eye movement, hand tapping, or auditory tones.
The first two phases are the ‘preparation’ phases that the client undergoes before the active treatment begins. These stages are fundamental in allowing both the therapist and the client to become fully familiar with the trauma the client is experiencing. These initial stages also include going through relaxation exercises such as guided meditations or breathing techniques that are utilised as grounding tools during the treatment.
Stages three to six are the treatment phases. These consist of the client targeting specific distressing trauma images or memories with eye movements, hand movements or sounds. The client will think of a target image that represents the traumatic event previously experienced. They are asked to think about and identify the negative thoughts surrounding this event, as well as how distressed they feel.
Following this, the therapist will use bilateral eye movements, taps or sounds in a series of ‘sets’ lasting for less than a minute. In between each set, distress ratings will be taken. The sets will continue until the distress has been reduced and an alternative positive thought can be linked with the traumatic image or memory. During the sets the client may regularly be asked to recall the original memory and whether their feelings towards it have changed or remained the same. Once one traumatic image or memory is dealt with, the client and therapist can address a new traumatic image or memory until they are all addressed.
The remaining two phases are known as the ‘closure’ and ‘re-evaluation’ phases. They offer the client time to ground themselves by using the relaxation exercises introduced at the beginning of the session. These phases also allow for time to evaluate the profess made, any challenges faced, and how to build on the work done in the session.
By the end of the therapy, client’s typically report reduced distress and PTSD symptoms, improved perspective of the traumatic memory, and increased hope for the future.
Where to find us in London for eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing
2/8 Victoria Avenue
16 Brune Street
1 Harley Street