Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (more commonly known as EMDR), is a powerful psychological therapy that was developed by an American clinical psychologist in the 1980s.
EMDR therapy can be used to treat a wide range of psychological difficulties that typically originate in trauma, such as direct or indirect experiences of violence, accidents or natural disaster. EMDR therapy is also used to treat more prolonged, low-grade distress that originates in shock or loss in adult life and/or issues experienced during childhood. The experiences outlined above often lead to post-traumatic stress, for which EMDR has been recommended by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE). EMDR is also useful for other difficulties that originate in trauma where a formal diagnosis of post-traumatic stress has not been made.
EMDR therapy can be used for the treatment of:
- PTSD – traumatic, disturbing or overwhelming life events
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Fears & Phobias
- Complex Grief
- Performance anxiety & low self-esteem
HOW DOES EMDR WORK?
A general overview is that we all have traumas from the past; some of these may be significant traumas or a series of smaller emotional injuries spanning from early childhood to adulthood, and which may not be recalled individually, but which have had an accumulative effect. These traumas can severely interfere with our ability to function and enjoy our lives in the present.
Most of the time the brain routinely manages new information and experiences without you being aware of it. However, when something out of the ordinary occurs (e.g. a car accident, abuse, bullying, being attacked or something seemingly less significant like being humiliated), your natural coping mechanism can become overloaded. This overloading can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen on a neurological level, or being “unprocessed”. Such unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in an isolated part of the brain in a “raw” and emotional form, rather than in a verbal “story” mode.
When someone is reminded of, or recalls, a distressing memory from the past, they can re-experience what they saw, heard, felt or tasted. Often the memories are long forgotten or psychologically buried, but the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger or despair can be activated and felt in the present, like the original event(s) is happening again. This can lead to avoidance of certain people or situations that trigger the emotional and/or physical reaction linked with distressing events from the past.
DOES IT ERASE MEMORIES?
While it isn’t possible to erase memories, EMDR helps create the connections between your brain’s memory networks, enabling your brain to process the memory in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory of an event in the past. This linking of related memories can lead to a dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of your life.
WILL I REMAIN IN CONTROL AND EMPOWERED?
You will remain in control, fully alert and wide-awake. This is not a form of hypnosis and you can stop the process at any time. Reprocessing is usually experienced as something that happens spontaneously, and new connections and insights are felt to arise quite naturally. As a result, most people experience EMDR as being a natural and very empowering therapy.
In this video, Jameela Jamil talks to Russell Brand about her experience of EMDR therapy (contains swearing):
Credits: EMDR UK & Ireland Association, Centrum voor Psychotherapie en Psychotrauma and Russell Brand.