Dr Daniel Bowen PhD (Clinical Psychology) is an Accredited EMDR Practitioner!

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)
 A Guide for Clients

What is the History of EMDR?

In 1989, a new therapy called Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) was announced which claimed to rapidly resolve trauma memories, with greater speed and effectiveness than other therapies. Because EMDR stemmed from an accidental discovery, and because no one could explain how it worked, it was initially regarded by many people as controversial. Since its discovery, EMDR has developed and evolved through the contributions of therapists and researchers all over the world. Today, EMDR is a set of standardised protocols that incorporates elements from many different treatment approaches. 

What Kind of Problems Can EMDR Treat?

EMDR is a powerful method of psychotherapy that has helped millions of all ages relieve many types of psychological distress. Scientific research has established EMDR as the treatment of choice for Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD, Click here for more information). Additionally, EMDR is now being successfully used to effectively treat a wide range of mental health problems, including:

Anxiety and panic attacks
Complicated grief
Eating disorders
Low self-esteem
Pain relief
Performance anxiety
Performance enhancement
Personality disorders
Relationship issues
Sleep problems
Trauma and abuse
Work-related issues

How Does EMDR Work?

During EMDR the client is guided to deliberately bring into conscious awareness the sensory memory, their thoughts, and the accompanying emotions and bodily sensations. Clients need to be willing to experience the emotions and body sensations that accompany the recall of a distressing memory and associated thoughts.

This is quickly followed by the client following the moving fingers of the therapist. The client’s eyes move rapidly for a brief period, around 30 seconds. This produces a distinctive and naturally occurring pattern of electrical activity in the brain, which causes the stored memory to quickly change. The exact mechanisms in the brain which cause the memory to change have not yet been discovered, but the regions of the brain involved with sensory storage, emotional activation and reasoning all become more active, with changed patterns of nerve cell firing.

During the eye movement the therapist does not talk or offer suggestions. The client does not try to change any aspect of the memory, and is asked to just notice the experience, to observe their memory, emotions, bodily sensations and thoughts. At the end of each set of eye movements the client is then asked to report their present experience. It may be that the sensory memory becomes less detailed or less vivid, and clients often report that the memory has become quite distant. Commonly the emotional or bodily sensations reduce in intensity quite quickly. If other associations are observed, they are shared with the therapist. Further sets of eye movement follow, until the memory is recalled as a distant event, with minimal current distress.

The client is then asked to associate a more useful thought to the now more distant trauma memory, and further sets of eye movements follow. The EMDR process is complete when the new perspective feels true even when the old memory is recalled. This entire process may take as little as ten minutes, or as long as a full session. Where there are several different experiences underlying the client’s difficulties, it may take a number of sessions to fully resolve them. You will likely feel tired after an EMDR session.

Why EMDR Therapy?

The brain has mechanisms to heal itself naturally in the same way the body does. Much of this occurs during sleep, in particular during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) deep sleep. EMDR Therapy utilises this natural process. The brain cannot process traumatic or stressful experiences as it normally would through sleep, talking it through and the passage of time.  The memory becomes “frozen in time” and continues to be disturbing when we think about it.  Such memories have a lasting effect and interfere with the way we see the world and relate to other people, often creating avoidance of places or people that trigger the memories. EMDR Therapy has a positive effect on how the brain processes information. Following an EMDR Therapy session, people no longer relive the trauma or feel disturbed when they think about it. Flashbacks and nightmares cease. They still recall what happened, but it is not as upsetting.

Will I Remain in Control and Empowered? 

During EMDR treatment, 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. Throughout the session, the therapist will support and facilitate your own self-healing and intervene as little as possible. Reprocessing is usually experienced as something that happens spontaneously, and new connections and insights are felt to arise quite naturally from within. As a result, most people experience EMDR as being a natural and very empowering therapy.

How Long Does EMDR Take?

One or more sessions are required for the therapist to understand the nature of the problem and to decide whether EMDR is an appropriate treatment. The therapist will also discuss EMDR more fully and provide an opportunity to answer questions about the method. Once therapist and client have agreed that EMDR is appropriate for a specific problem, the actual EMDR therapy may begin.

A typical EMDR session lasts from 60 to 90 minutes. The type of problem, life circumstances, and the amount of previous trauma will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary. EMDR may be used within a standard “talking” therapy, as an adjunctive therapy with a separate therapist, or as a treatment all by itself.

Are There Any Cautions?

EMDR is not suitable for all clients. Some clients need additional help in developing skills in managing and reducing emotional arousal. Whilst EMDR looks simple, there are many important procedural steps for the therapist to follow. You shouldn’t undertake any course of treatment, EMDR included, where your life circumstances and financial resources will not allow you to work safely and bring the therapy to a reasonable conclusion. Even though EMDR can yield results in a short time, you need to be prepared to follow through with a course of treatment.

Daniel Bowen,
27 Jun 2017, 19:48