What is EMDR therapy? Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an extensively researched, effective psychotherapy method, originally developed to help alleviate distress associated with traumatic memories. EMDR Therapy can be used to help people recover from trauma and other distressing life experiences.
It is considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a first-choice treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, with growing evidence of its effectiveness for other mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and panic disorders.
How does EMDR Therapy work? EMDR therapy uses bilateral stimulation (BLS) – eye movements, tapping or auditory tones – to accelerate the brain’s capacity to process and heal a troubling or traumatic memory. The BLS facilitates the brain’s natural way of processing day to day memories, which can be impacted by traumatic memories or memories that hold high levels of distress.
During EMDR therapy, an accelerated learning process is stimulated by EMDR’s standardised procedures. While clients briefly focus on the trauma memory and simultaneously experience bilateral stimulation (BLS), the vividness and emotion of the memory are reduced. In successful EMDR therapy, the meaning of painful events is transformed on a neurological level. Unlike talk therapy, the insights clients gain in EMDR therapy result not so much from clinician interpretation, but from the client’s own accelerated intellectual and emotional processes.
The EMDR Therapy Process EMDR therapy generally uses a structured eight-phase approach that includes:
Phase 1: History-taking and assessment
Phase 2: Preparing the client
Phase 3: Assessing the target memory
Phases 4-7: Processing the memory to adaptive resolution
Phase 8: Evaluating treatment results
Processing of a specific memory is generally completed within one to three sessions, depending on the client. *The treatment approach needs to be modified for clients with complex trauma and dissociation, who are likely to require more extensive reparation and longer-term treatment, combined with other therapy approaches.
What happens in an EMDR processing session? Once assessment and preparation phases have been completed and both client and clinician agree to proceed with processing of the traumatic/adverse experiences, processing work can begin on identified target memories, emotions, or dysfunctional beliefs. With BLS, attention will be given to a negative image, belief, emotion, and body sensation related to the event, and then to a positive belief that would indicate the issue was resolved. EMDR Therapy focuses on processing past events, as well as present triggers and future challenging scenarios. A typical EMDR therapy session lasts around 60-90 minutes. EMDR therapy may be used within a standard talking therapy, as an adjunctive therapy with a separate therapist, or as a treatment all by itself. How is EMDR different from other treatments? EMDR therapy does not include extended exposure to the distressing memory, detailed descriptions of the trauma, or direct challenging of dysfunctional beliefs.