Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR)

by Gavin Healy


EMDR is an eight-phase treatment method. History taking, client preparation, assessment, desensitisation, installation, body scan, closure and reevaluation of treatment effect are the eight phases of this treatment which are briefly described. EMDR therapy is a mental health treatment technique. This method involves moving your eyes a specific way while you process traumatic memories. EMDR's goal is to help you heal from trauma or other distressing life experiences.


EMDR is a form of psychotherapy, a specialised brain-based method for healing trauma. But unlike conventional therapy, you're not talking back-and-forth with the therapist for the entire session. It is a mostly client-centered model where the client has the ability to share little or nothing with the EMDR therapist about what they just processed. In fact, clients will move through things more quickly, with less involvement from the therapist. 


Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. is the originator and developer of EMDR therapy, which has been designated as an effective trauma treatment by a wide range of organisations, including the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organisation. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an integrative psychotherapeutic approach that emphasises the role of the brain’s information processing system (Shapiro, 2018). EMDR therapy was introduced in 1989 with the publication of a Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) evaluating its effects with trauma victims (Shapiro, 2014). 


EMDR utilises the natural healing ability of your body. After a thorough assessment, you will be asked specific questions about a particular disturbing memory. Eye movements, similar to those of REM sleep, will be recreated simply by asking you to watch the therapist’s finger moving backwards and forwards across your visual field in what is termed as bilateral stimulation (BLS). Sometimes a bar of moving lights or headphones is used instead. The eye movements will last for a short while and then stop. You will then be asked to report back on the experiences you have had during each of these sets of eye movements. Experiences during a session may include changes in thoughts, images and feelings.The goal of EMDR is to address past, present and future issues related to traumatic events, and reprocess them (Pagani et al., 2015). 


With repeated sets of eye movements, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses painful intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory of an event in the past. Other associated memories may also heal at the same time. This linking of related memories can lead to a dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of your life. EMDR places emphasis on identifying and recognizing body sensations which normalizes the presence of physical sensations that are often troubling to the ego state system. Clients will subsequently be less fearful of processing sensations, symptoms, and the memories to which they are tied (Forgash & Knipe, 2012). EMDR therapy and trauma-focused CBT are widely recognised as the only two effective empirically supported treatment approaches for the treatment of PTSD (Bisson et al., 2013). 

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