What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful psychological treatment that has been used effectively for over 30 years in a variety of international settings and cultures with many different types of psychological distress.
What kind of problems can EMDR treat?
Scientific research has established EMDR as effective for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Clinicians have also successfully used EMDR as a treatment component in the management of:
- Anxiety/panic attacks/phobias
- Personality disorders
- Complicated grief
- Dissociative disorders
- Chronic pain and somatic symptoms
- Body dysmorphia/Eating disorders
- Substance use
- Disturbing memories
Often disturbing events happen in our lives that stay with us. The brain cannot process information as it ordinarily does. One moment can become ‘frozen in time’ and remembering the trauma may feel as bad as going through it for the first time. This is because the images, sounds, smells and feelings still seem to be there – they haven’t changed. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way that they relate to other people.
EMDR has a positive effect on how the brain processes information. Following an EMDR session, the person no longer relives the trauma. They still recall that an incident happened, but it no longer feels upsetting.
How long does EMDR treatment 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 with you more fully and give you an opportunity to ask questions. The main “processing” session is typically 60-90 minutes long, though other sessions will be shorter. The type of problem, life circumstances and the amount of previous trauma will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary.
Is EMDR supported by evidence?
EMDR is one of the most researched psychotherapeutic approaches for PTSD. Since 1989 over 20 controlled clinical studies have found EMDR to effectively decrease or eliminate the symptoms of PTSD for the majority of clients and it is more efficient.
The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has noted EMDR as a Level 1 treatment for PTSD in their published review (2010). This is the highest rating that can be applied to a specific therapeutic approach. Additional research has focussed on use of EMDR for Depression and Anxiety and numerous other issues with extremely good results. The WHO has endorsed EMDR since 2013.
What is an EMDR session like?
During EMDR, the therapist works with the client to identify a specific problem as a focus for the treatment session. The client then calls to mind the disturbing issue or event, what was seen, felt, heard, thought, etc. The therapist will then begin eye movements or other bilateral stimulation. These eye movements are used until the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with a positive thought and belief about yourself.
What are the advantages of EMDR over other approaches?
- Treatment is focussed on symptoms, rather than the narrative; clients do not have to talk in detail about their trauma
- Treatment is conducted in session — no homework
- EMDR has comparable results to that of other trauma treatments such as exposure therapy, but over a much shorter timeframe
- Studies have shown that 77-90% of patients were able to eliminate their symptoms after 3-7 sessions