Written by Nourished Not Deprived Practitioners

What is EMDR and how does it work?

A visual representation of EMDR therapy with an eyeball inside a tree

Trauma infects itself into the minds of those who have experienced it. It impacts everyday life, relationships, the ability to maintain a career and welcomes itself at the most unwanted times. Those with PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) may find themselves constricting their lives, avoiding places that evoke distressing emotions, turning down the radio when a certain song fills their ears and running from whiffs of cologne that remind them of someone they attempt to burn the memories of. These attempts of avoidance are seemingly unhelpful. Memories tend to find us either way, in a nightmare, in a toss full night of no rest, in intrusive thoughts, in the face of a stranger.

Why do we need trauma therapy?

In the recent years of Covid rearing its head, the need for more trauma-based therapy has risen. EMDR eased its way onto the scene, accompanied by celebrities such as Prince Harry, Sandra Bullock and Jameela Jamil. These celebrities expressing their use of the treatment and how helpful it has been for them pushed EMDR therapy into the public eye.

With this, questions of course arise. Is EMDR helpful? Can EMDR help you? Is EMDR a hoax? Let’s discuss…

What is EMDR?

‘Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing’, (EMDR) is a psychotherapy approach to assisting patients move through past trauma & negative life experiences. This therapy aims to creates new neural pathways for the brain, eliciting healthier responses to everyday life.

Francine Shapiro, a psychologist in 1987 struggled with her own disturbing experiences and was drawn to experiment on herself. Yes herself…

It all began with a walk in the path where Francine flicked her eyes back and forth and felt an emotional response of moving past the events that were plaguing her. She eventually moved onto her patients and saw the results were being expressed by them too.

Following this, 25 RCTS (Randomised Control Trials) have set a strong knowledge base for the foundational benefits of EMDR, with this now being a validated psychotherapy treatment for PTSD by the World Health Organisation, American Psychological Association and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, a rigorous authority in the psychological field.

The alluring ability of EMDR treatment to assist in managing psychological distress in a shorter period of time when compared to other therapies is music to an Occupational Therapist’s ears, as the timely nature and costly strain of therapy is a common barrier to society accessing good healthcare.

What is EMDR in a nutshell?

EMDR therapy was introduced in 1989 with the publication of a study that looked at its impact on trauma in patients, since then, the treatment has been readily studied for its validity. It is an eight-phase treatment process with three prolonged protocols that help set the foundations of the patient’s past experiences, present experiences and purported future challenges.

What are the 8 stages of EMDR?

1. History taking and information gathering.
In this phase the therapist will identify your past and present experiences to help determine whether EMDR therapy is likely to assist you. This is where the therapist will also set the foundational goals and focus of the sessions to come.

2. Preparation:

In this phase you will receive education on what to expect during the session and create grounding and safety strategies to keep you at ease and help manage emotions that may arise.

3. Assessment:
Here is where the therapist helps you to identify specific focus points that you may want to work on reprocessing.

4. Desensitisation:
During this phase the therapist assists in helping you identify one or more specific negative images, thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations as well as any new feelings or thoughts that you may have about what you are experiencing. 

5. Installations:
This is where the positive belief starts to become embedded. The therapist will instill more positive senses of self and belief into the bodies networks for the patient.

6. Body Scan:
The patient will process any bodily sensations here with the therapist assisting in identifying the ease of the negative feelings. This is where the patient will begin experiencing a movement through the current emotions and should begin to feel relief.

7. Closure
Guided imagery and self-control techniques will be provided in the closure of the process. It is important to note that a therapist should not end a session until you feel safe and stabilised.

8. Reassessment

Evaluation is an important part of this therapy, as with any therapy. This can help you to determine if additional sessions are required or explore any fears of the future.

What is the difference between CBT and EMDR?

Like CBT with a trauma focus, EMDR therapy aims to reduce subjective distress and strengthen adaptive cognitions related to the traumatic event. EMDR DOES NOT however involve discussing detailed descriptions of the events that occurred, direct challenging of beliefs or extended exposure or homework. With this in mind, patients who struggle to verbalise their experiences, may find this treatment less invasive or confronting in comparison to trauma focused CBT.

What is controversial about EMDR as a treatment?

Any new form of treatment is usually met with controversy. When googling EMDR treatment safety some blog posts proport ‘brainwashing’ effects as a risk. Luckily, EMDR therapy does not work through brainwashing, and the side effects of EMDR therapy are similar to any therapy where revisiting past trauma occurs. Vivid dreams, heightened anxiety and acute distress may occur, however as the treatment progresses, these symptoms subside and should eventually dissipate all together.

Is EMDR effective?

Yes, it has been shown to be effective for many individuals experiencing depression, phobias, PTSD, anxiety and psychological distress. With all therapy however, you must find what works for you.

Further, reliving trauma daily, sucks; but if we can provide you with any sense of hope, we advise you to remember that there are many many different therapy types, and if therapy hasn’t worked for you in the past, perhaps this is the therapy you should give a try.

Interested to see if EMDR is for you? Give our clinic a call today and we can review whether you are an appropriate candidate for the treatment.

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