What is EMDR?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, which is an integrative, client centred approach designed to improve problems in our everyday life through the reprocessing of distressing or traumatic memories that are still impacting on us now. EMDR therapy is an innovative approach that researchers have found strong evidence for not only in the treatment of PTSD but also trans-diagnostically for a variety of mental health difficulties.
How does EMDR work?
Our brains often naturally recover from horrible events on their own without any help. However, sometimes our survival mechanisms at the time of the distressing and traumatising event (i.e., fight, flight, or freeze responses that are just trying to protect us) actually prevents the distressing experience from being processed in our memory properly. The underlying theory of EMDR, is that these distressing life experiences that have not been stored in our memory properly and are “unprocessed” or “blocked” cause many psychological challenges.
EMDR is one of the most well supported approaches that allows us to help the brain process traumatic memories. This is believed to restore communication with our fight, flight, or freeze response (so that it can keep on keeping us safe), whilst creating distance between the present and the traumatising event in the past (i.e, reducing flashbacks and distressing memories), reducing our emotional distress when reminded of the event (reduce emotional reactivity) and are also more able to see ourselves in an adaptive light (improving our self talk and beliefs).
What is an EMDR session like?
First of all, it is not unusual for assessment and preparation sessions to occur with your therapist prior to an EMDR session as it is important to ensure you are able to tolerate sensory memory, thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations of the distressing event(s). In addition, you have adequate coping skills to regulate emotions safely within a session and afterwards. PLUS, it is important that your therapist makes sure you are a good candidate for EMDR therapy (P.S It isn’t the right fight for everyone).
During an EMDR session, the therapist guides you to intentionally bring into awareness the sensory memory, thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations of the event being targeted for reprocessing. Then the therapist guides the client’s eyes to move rapidly for a brief period to activate a distinct and naturally occurring pattern of electrical activity in the brain, this causes the stored trauma memory to change. You might notice your therapist won’t be speaking during this, or offering suggestions (like they might normally), that is how it is meant to be – because our own brains are actually in the best position to guide this work. In EMDR we have just created the environment for the brain to process the memory now whilst not in our survival state (i.e., not in fight/flight/freeze), so we want to let the brain do it’s thing. Then we repeat, until the trauma memory no longer triggers feelings of distress, and we integrate a more useful thought around this now distant experience. This process can be quick, however it sometimes can take a few sessions or more depending on the complexity of the memories we are working with.
Whilst EMDR may look easy and straightforward, there are actually many important procedures and steps that a therapist must follow and therefore to call oneself a EMDR therapist takes well over 30 hours of closely supervised and specialised training. It is a good idea to make sure your clinician is trained in this approach if they are planning on using it with you. EMDR is an approach I am trained in that supplements the other psychological approaches that I offer to current and future clients.
Author: Samantha Sheppard, B Psych (Hons).
Samantha is a registered psychologist with experience working with children and adolescents (and their families), young adults and adults. Samantha empowers others with their mental health using a non-judgemental, compassionate approach, and particularly resonates with the social and emotional wellbeing framework.
To make an appointment with Samantha Sheppard try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129.