Eye movement desensitisation reprogramming (EMDR) is a type of psychotherapy used to help people with a wide range of different mental health conditions.
EMDR treatment does not require as much discussion as other forms of psychotherapy. Instead of using talking to overcome challenges, EMDR therapy allows the brain to fulfil its natural healing processes all by itself.
What is EMDR therapy?
EMDR is a short-term type of psychotherapy that helps people properly process the thoughts and emotions stored in their bodies. In doing so, people are able to calmly face triggers in their daily lives without being forced to re-live past pain.
EMDR was originally designed to help people recover after experiencing a disturbing or traumatic event; however, today, it is used to help people overcome a range of problems and challenges.
Typically, sessions are conducted one-to-one, once or twice a week for a total of six to twelve sessions. During each session, the therapist helps their client trigger a type of brain stimulation that allows them to release the emotional experiences trapped within their nervous system.
One of the greatest benefits of EMDR therapy is that it works very rapidly. Some people find that they are able to recover from the emotional distress associated with past life experiences after only a few sessions – a change that could require years to achieve using other forms of psychotherapy.
EMDR practitioners help people identify painful memories, fully process them and then install healthier beliefs so that they can move on from their trauma. For example, using EMDR, an assault victim can release all feelings of fear and horror and solidify a new belief like “I am safe and strong”.
What does EMDR help with?
EMDR has long been known to be beneficial for individuals who have experienced a traumatic, distressing or upsetting event. For example, research has shown that EMDR is an effective treatment for people suffering from PTSD.
However, more recent research also suggests that EMDR therapy can help people with a range of other mental health challenges, including:
- Bipolar disorder
- Chronic pain
- Eating disorders
- Low self-esteem
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Postnatal Depression
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Repressed traumas
- Sleep disorders
If you are looking for help overcoming any of the challenges listed above, our private clinic offers EMDR therapy in London.
To book a session or find out more, get in touch with us using our contact form here.
How does EDMR work?
EMDR treatment works by helping the brain process “stuck” emotions.
Naturally, our brains are capable of recovering from traumatic events all by themselves. They help us heal by processing trauma-related emotions within the amygdala, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.
However, sometimes, traumatic emotions get stuck and continue to be triggered in our present-day lives.
When a stuck emotion is triggered, it creates an overwhelming emotion of being back in the traumatic memory. You experience fearful, anxious and overwhelming emotions as if you were really experiencing the event in the present moment.
This is why EMDR can be so helpful for people who suffer from anxiety, PTSD and panic attacks. EMDR helps the brain process stuck emotions associated with a distressing memory. Once these emotions are processed, the brain can return to its normal healing activities.
Memories that have been treated with EMDR can still be remembered, but their emotional intensity is removed. In this way, traumatic experiences can be recalled without them triggering a distressing “fight-or-flight” response.
During an EMDR session, your mental health practitioner will encourage you to briefly focus on a specific memory while helping you induce bilateral (left-right) brain stimulation.
The pairing of the memory with bilateral stimulation (BLS), triggers the brain to rewire, reducing the strength of the emotions associated with the memory.
To induce BLS, your therapist will ask you to follow their finger with your eyes back and forth for about 15 to 30 seconds while you think about the target memory. Alternatively, you can also use audio tones or hand tapping to bring about BLS.
What are the 8 EMDR phases?
EMDR treatment brings attention to the past, present and future:
- The focus of EMDR is to help you process and clear the negative emotions associated with past traumatic memories.
- However, throughout the EMDR process, your therapist will also guide you to focus on the present to help you assess how well the treatment is working by tuning into how you are feeling in the now.
- Your therapist will also teach you strategies and techniques that will help prepare you for the future and any challenges you face.
EMDR therapy has an 8-phase treatment approach. Each phase focuses on a particular aspect of the treatment process.
The 8 phases of EMDR are:
- History taking and treatment planning
- Body scan
The first 2 phases help you get ready for BLS.
Phases 3 to 6 involve using BLS to process old traumatic emotions. During these phases, your therapist will help you identify 3 things: a vivid visual image related to the memory, a negative belief you have about yourself, and the emotions/sensations you feel in your body when you think about the memory.
The final 2 phases are about helping you return to a calm state and assessing your progress.
Phase 1 – History Taking and Treatment Planning
You will discuss your background and past experiences with your therapist. Your therapist will ask you questions to help you uncover specific traumatic events to reprocess.
As well as traumatic memories, your therapist might also ask you about current situations in your life that are causing you distress. They will also ask you to rate the intensity of the emotions you feel connected to the events you have identified.
Your therapist will use your conversation to make a list of all of the key experiences you are going to work through together. This list can include a wide array of different negative experiences, including bullying, rejection, abuse, near-death experiences, heartbreak or humiliation.
Typically, when we experience negative events, our brains automatically come up with a negative belief based on the event (e.g., I’m a failure, I’m not loved, I’m not safe, I can’t trust anyone). During Phase 1, you will start to identify the beliefs you have connected to your specific experiences so that you can change them later on.
Once you have identified the specific events (and related beliefs) you are going to work on during your sessions, your therapist will make a plan for targeting each of these events individually over the course of your time together.
Your treatment plan will include goals and a structure that outlines the order of the memories you are going to work through.
Phase 2 – Preparation
Your therapist will explain the EMDR process to you and answer any questions or concerns you may have. EMDR can be an emotionally triggering process as old memories and traumas rise to the surface.
Your therapist will make sure you are prepared before you get started by teaching you tools you can use to help you cope with any emotions that come up. They may teach you techniques like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation to help you calm your mind and manage your anxiety.
Phase 3 – Assessment
Your therapist will help you recreate the feelings associated with the first specific event. They will ask you questions like ‘What incident caused the traumatic feelings?’, ‘What do you see when you think about the memory?’ or ‘How likely is it that this event will happen again?’.
The goal of this phase is to help you reexperience the event in the present moment, bringing it to the surface so that your brain can fully process the incident this time around. To do this, your therapist may encourage you to focus on specific images, sensations, feelings or beliefs associated with the memory.
Phase 4 – Desensitisation
While you continue to think about the specific event, your therapist will begin to direct you to make side-to-side eye movements to initiate BLS. BLS is performed in rounds or sets that last for approximately 15 to 30 seconds.
At the end of each round of BLS, your therapist will guide you to take a deep breath, refocus on how you are feeling and give them feedback about how your emotions have changed since the beginning of the round.
Depending on how intense your emotional response to the traumatic memory is, your therapist may alter how long each round lasts or the type of BLS they use.
They will continue this process until you can no longer feel the emotions originally associated with the memory (i.e., until all of the traumatic emotions have been fully processed by your nervous system).
Phase 5 – Installation
During this phase, your therapist will help you “install” a new belief into your brain so that it replaces a negative one linked to the traumatic event. For example, they may help you solidify a belief like “I am safe now” to overwrite a previously-held belief that you were not safe.
With each round, you will strengthen this new belief until it feels completely true and your feelings of distress have dissolved.
Phase 6 – Body scan
Your therapist will direct you to think about your specific event and your new belief at the same time. They will then guide you through a body scan to help you reevaluate how thinking about the memory is now making you feel.
The body scan will help you see where any unprocessed emotions or resistance to the new belief might be lingering. Signs of residual trauma include raised blood pressure, increased heart rate and muscle tension.
If you notice anything that indicates there are still some traumatic emotions remaining, your therapist will guide you through another round of BLS.
Phase 7 – Closure
Before your session ends, your therapist will guide you back to a state of calm and help you refocus on the present moment.
If you can still feel some emotions that have not yet been resolved, your therapist will teach you one or more stress reduction techniques to keep you safe during the time between your current session and the next one.
Your therapist may also ask you to keep a log of any triggering events that occur during the time between sessions and will give you advice on how to manage any challenges that come up. They will remind you of specific self-calming activities that they taught you during Phase 2.
Reprocessing of a specific event is complete when you no longer feel any emotion when you think about it (i.e., when you feel neutral). If you do not feel neutral at the end of your session, your therapist will help you return to a calm state before you leave.
Then, in your next session, you will continue working on the same specific event until it is completely reprocessed (until there is finally no emotion left surrounding it).
Phase 8 – Reevaluation
At the beginning of each new session, your therapist will remind you of the specific events you have previously worked on to make sure there are no lingering emotions attached to the memories of them.
If you do find there is emotion remaining, you will begin working on that specific event again. If you feel completely neutral, you and your therapist will begin to work on the next specific event on your treatment plan by going back through phases 3-7.
At the end of each session, your therapist will evaluate how effective the treatment has been and will let you know whether they think you could benefit from additional sessions.
EMDR helps you recover from past trauma by reprocessing distressing memories using bilateral stimulation (BLS) in the brain. EMDR can help you process painful experiences such as grief, divorce, abuse, bullying and nightmares.