EMDR: More than a Therapy for PTSD and Trauma

You could describe EMDR as a very new, non-traditional type of psychotherapy which has grown in popularity due to its highly efficient ability to treat grief, PTSD and traumatic life events. In fact, EMDR has been around since the 80s. 

It may sound a bit of an odd name and I guess it is.  The therapy is known as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, EMDR for short and approaches psychological issues in a rather interesting and unexpected way. Unlike traditional psychotherapy methods, this particular one does not rely on or involve medications or therapy talk and often provides quicker and more rapid results than traditional talking therapy.

EMDR follows the theory that your brain has not been able to process a traumatic event in the same way that it should, and it is this that creates the problems. Think of it like a memory of an event that just keeps looping round and round getting stuck in your mind, like a stuck record. To ‘unblock’ the memory an EMDR practitioner needs to get both your left and right-side brain online and get your brain moving while you concentrate on the memory by means of moving your eyes left and right or some other form of bi-lateral stimulation. 

In practice it’s just you sitting in front of your EMDR practitioner recalling a memory. At the same time, you will make specific eye movements by following their finger from left to right.  Or bi-lateral stimulation such as holding tappers that softly vibrate your hands left and right or tapping of the knees.

Yes, it just sounds a bit odd doesn’t it. 

“I’ve lost count how many people have been sceptic at the start of EMDR but pleasantly surprised at the end!”

But how does EMDR therapy work?

This sort of therapy for trauma is based on the same principle as REM sleep. According to psychotherapists, REM sleep serves a number of adaptive functions, including memory consolidation. The principle on which this therapy works is the belief that EMDR, similarly to REM sleep, has the ability to alter emotionally charged memories and reduce trauma-related symptoms by reprocessing them.

This type of eye movement is also believed to decrease memory emotionality, which makes the patient somehow immune to all the negative emotions associated with certain memories.

Another theory (the working memory hypothesis) comes to clear out the fact that eye movements and visual imagery (which is used when recalling memories) draw on the limited capacity of the memory center. Studies have found that EMDR is due to decrease the vividness and emotionality associated with the memories recalled during these sessions.

Here is one account of someone’s experience of EMDR and will give you more of an idea of what happens in sessions:  https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/how-emdr-helped-me

EMDR beyond PTSD

Since an impressive number of studies shown that EMDR has indisputable abilities to treat PTSD by helping the patient to distance themselves from traumatic events and memories, and also to lower their intensity and mute the emotions associated with those, experts claim that this type of therapy is, in fact, effective in treating a series of other psychological disorders. Many papers that attest the efficiency of EMDR therapy in a series of disorders have been published.

The simple fact that EMDR therapy can be successfully used to “mute” negative emotions and memories opens unexpected therapy opportunities for patients struggling with mental health conditions. Therapies that are not based on medication or talk therapy and that can successfully help the patients to overcome some of the most traumatic memories and experiences which contributed to the debut and evolution of the condition itself.

You can still benefit from EMDR without having trauma or PTSD

Did you know that EMDR is growing a reputation for helping in other ways as well?  Here are some examples:

Performance enhancement – it can help to improve a persons’ performance whether this be a hobby, a sport, or career.

EMDR can help to strengthen positive coping strategies, provide additional internal resources to cope with the stresses of life.

The one I’m most interested in and considering training in is helping people to heal from grief by reconnecting them to their loved one for guidance and support.  Without the need of any spiritual medium.  How cool is that.  Here is a wonderful book if you are interested in finding out more about this approach.