What is EMDR therapy
You’ve probably heard of commonly used treatment approaches like Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT for short), Mindfulness, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), Relaxation, or even Hypnotherapy. Perhaps the last psychologist you visited employed one or several of these techniques when treating you. But the fact that you’re here probably means it didn’t work very well for you, if it did at all! If finding the right psychologist isn’t already tricky enough, trying to figure out what kind of treatment works best for you can be another huge source of frustration that could leave you disillusioned with the idea of counselling!
I have to admit that I used to be one of those psychologists that I described above. At the time, I was getting mixed results, and was often left wondering to myself if there was ever a kind of treatment that would adequately address all of a client’s issues and bring about deep, real and lasting change and transformation to my clients. (Mind you, I have been a client myself too and totally understand how frustrating it is when I am not really getting anywhere with a kind of treatment!) I have to be honest – I do not believe that my role as a psychologist is to only provide quick fixes and temporary, superficial change although I know a handful of people who would be content with just that! Anyway, my search went on until I decided to undergo training in EMDR therapy and soon realised that this was the answer that I, and more importantly my clients, had been looking for….EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (quite a mouthful I know!), is really not as complicated, strange and awkward as it may sound! In fact, EMDR is considered a breakthrough therapy because of its simplicity and the fact that it can bring quick and lasting relief for most types of emotional distress.
EMDR was founded in the late 1980s by Dr Francine Shapiro and was originally used to primarily treat victims of trauma. Since then, other therapists have contributed to its development as understanding of its capabilities has grown over the years. Today, EMDR has evolved into a highly effective and flexible technique that incorporates elements from many other treatment modalities. It is a well-known treatment whose effectiveness is recognised by various organisations around the world. These include:
- The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies
- National Health and Medical Research Council
- American Psychiatric Association
- American Psychological Association
- US Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense
- Northern Ireland Department of Health
- Dutch Guidelines of Mental Health Care
- Israel National Council for Mental Health
- World Health Organization
The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has recently noted EMDR as a Level 1 treatment for PTSD in their recent published results for both adolescents and adults (see Evidence-Based Psychological Interventions: A Literature Review (2010)) . This is the highest rating that can be given to a specific therapy approach. There has also been research that has examined the effectiveness of EMDR therapy for Depression and Anxiety and numerous other issues with extremely good results. Unfortunately here in Australia, there is still very little awareness of this therapy in the general public (except the savvy ones who have done their research), and even among health professionals!
EMDR therapy uses a natural function of the body, rapid eye movement (or REM) as its basis. The human mind uses REM during sleep time to help it process daily emotional experiences. When trauma is extreme, this process breaks down and REM sleep doesn’t bring the usual relief from distress. This is where EMDR comes in. EMDR is the next step or, you might say, an advanced stage of the REM processing. As troubling images and feelings are processed by the brain via the eye movement patterns of EMDR, resolution of the issues and a more peaceful state soon follow. The client is guided by the therapist to move his or her eyes from left to right over and over again while thinking about something bothersome or upsetting. This movement of the eyes was found to help people quickly “re-wire” disturbing memories and emotions, rendering then completely undisturbing. Shortly after EMDR first came into use, it was discovered that any bilateral (i.e. left-right) movement of the body could bring about the same therapeutic results. Today, EMDR occurs by way of bilateral eye movements, sounds (through a device that beeps in the left and right ears alternately) and touch (through tapping on the left and right sides of the body alternately). EMDR has been called an accelerated emotional processing tool because clients can rapidly resolve certain kinds of emotional issues that might have taken months or years to treat effectively with more regular “talking” therapies.
Studies to date have shown a high degree of effectiveness in treating conditions such as:
- Anxiety Disorders (e.g. Panic attacks, OCD)
- Trauma (e.g. child abuse, bullying, rape)
- Addictions (e.g. drugs, alcohol, gambling)
- Self-esteem difficulties
- Personality Disorders
- Eating Disorders
- Dissociative Disorders
- Performance Anxiety
- Chronic Pain
- Relationship Difficulties
This neat little video is a concise introduction to EMDR therapy
The following two videos discuss and highlight the effectiveness of EMDR therapy