What is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing)?
The Development of EMDR was initiated by Dr Francine Shapiro in the USA in late
1980s. Since then EMDR has been extended and used successfully for PTSD and
many anxiety and trauma based disorders and most disorders that have their origin
in emotional trauma in earlier years. In the past, PTSD was mainly thought of in
terms of war trauma but nowadays it includes examples of all major emotional traumas,
including road traffic accidents, assaults and rape, physical and sexual abuse, traumas
following involvement in disasters, trauma after medical procedures, etc. It is widely
accepted that symptoms such as "flashbacks", avoidance behaviours, a startle response,
sleep difficulties and emotional numbing are common following trauma.
These symptoms can persist for many years if left untreated.
How Does EMDR Work?
EMDR is an extremely powerful technique, which should only be used by properly
trained and experienced clinicians. Information reprocessing appears to be a
major element in the procedure. One hypothesis is that when disturbing events
occur, the normal information-processing system becomes imbalanced or
blocked and is replayed over and over again, rather like a record player needle
that has become stuck in the groove. The mind goes over and over the same event,
replaying it, without it resulting in information processing so that things can move on.
It is believed that this is what may be happening when an individual experiences
"flashbacks". There is some evidence that the eye movements perform a similar
function to those that occur during REM sleep (when we dream), which we already
know to have a vital information-processing function. The eye movements used
appear to stimulate the person's information processing ability when it has got
stuck through trauma. EMDR also contains within its procedures other elements
recognisable from more traditional therapies, such as cognitive and behavioural
therapies (CBT), which are known to work well. EMDR is quite different from
hypnosis, and no trance state is induced, no suggestions are made, and the
changes that occur are purely the result of the client's own innate and health
It is recommended by NICE that "all people with PTSD should
be offered a course of trauma-focused psychological treatment (trauma-focused
cognitive behavioural therapy [CBT] or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing
[EMDR])." For further information about PTSD click here. For further information about
EMDR for PTSD click here.
How EMDR is used in Clinical Practice?
Following in-depth assessment of the client's presenting problems and other
relevant issues in their personal history, time will be taken to explain the
treatment and demonstrate the bilateral stimulated eye movements so that the
client is fully prepared for what the treatment involves. EMDR requires clients
to focus on three main aspects of the trauma; a visual image of the traumatic
memory, the negative thought that they have about themselves in relation to
the trauma, and the location of the disturbance in their body. While focusing
on these aspects, the client then tracks visual and/or auditory bilateral set of
stimulations. After each set the client is simply asked to report on what they are
experiencing. During the course of this procedure, a decrease in the emotional
impact of the traumatic memory usually occurs. (Adapted from EMDR UK and
Ireland Association facts sheet).