Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a method of therapy that uses stimulation of the right and left hemispheres of the brain to activate the brain’s “information processing system” and to achieve healing of mind, body and emotions.
Is EMDR recognized?
EMDR has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma and is recognized as an effective treatment for PTSD by the American Psychiatric Association and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.
EMDR was also found effective by the US Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, the United Kingdom Department of Health, the Israeli National Council for Mental Health, and many other international health and governmental agencies.
To date, EMDR has helped an estimated two million people of all ages relieve many types of psychological stress.
Is EMDR useful for PTSD?
EMDR is the most researched psychotherapeutic treatment for PTSD. Twenty controlled outcome studies have investigated the efficacy of EMDR in PTSD treatment. Sixteen of these have been published, and the preliminary findings of four have been presented at conferences.
How and why does it work?
Many of our earlier life experiences in which we experienced fear, pain, anger, despair, helplessness or lack of choice and safety appear clinically to be the primary reasons for our psychological difficulties including anxiety, depression, stress, low self-esteem, addictions and relationship difficulties. EMDR allows us to get at the root of these problems and generally offers an effective long-term cure.
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In EMDR literature we differentiate between big ‘T’ and small ‘t’ trauma. Big ‘T’ trauma refers to events that we may have perceived as life threatening such as a car accident, combat, kidnapping, rape, physical attack or natural disasters. These events are so stressful they overwhelm our capacity to cope. These events would be upsetting to nearly everyone and would involve a reaction of fear, helplessness and terror.
Small ‘t’ trauma can occur in the innocuous but upsetting events of childhood that can leave an indelible mark in our minds and influence our behaviour. These events were subject to our ‘childlike’ interpretation and include things like overhearing a passing remark that we were fat or getting a failing grade in school. Small ‘t’ trauma also refers to childhood events in which we felt helpless, fearful and confused such as witnessing parental conflict or verbal put-downs and experiencing separations and losses.
Our current understanding of the way information is processed in the brain postulates that when something unpleasant happens to us, there is an “innate processing system” that occurs which is designed to maintain a state of mental health. Hence, when something unpleasant but not traumatic happens, we think about it, talk about it, or dream about it until it doesn’t bother us anymore. This leads to an adaptive resolution of the experience. We have processed the event and stored it in our brain in a way that can be useful for us in the future.
However, when something traumatic happens to us, be it a small ‘t’ or big ‘T’ trauma, this innate processing system can break down, causing our perception of the terrible event to get “stuck” in our central nervous system in the same way we originally experienced it. One moment becomes “frozen in time” and remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells and feelings haven’t changed. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way we see the world and the way we relate to other people. These unprocessed perceptions can result in a variety of symptoms including anxiety, depression, recurring dreams or nightmares, intrusive thoughts, startled responses or flashbacks. It also affects the choices we make as adults.
Through the use of EMDR, we can generally stimulate the “information processing system” to finally and appropriately process and store the event. Healing occurs by unlocking our innate physiological healing system thereby allowing us to heal at a much faster rate than would be possible with strictly talk therapy. Memories are not forgotten but the upsetting response that accompanied them is healed. Painful feelings associated with that event will not recur.
What happens during and after a session?
As the client is asked to focus on a past traumatic event, old thoughts, pictures or sounds from the past will re-emerge. Many people are conscious of only a shadow of the experience, while others feel it to a greater degree. Unlike some other therapies, EMDR clients are not asked to relive the trauma intensely and for prolonged periods of time. In EMDR, when there is a high level of intensity, it only lasts for a few moments and then decreases rapidly. If it does not decrease rapidly on its own, the counsellor has been trained to assist the client in techniques to help dissipate the distress. Through directed eye movements, knee tapping or some other method of bi-lateral stimulation the information is processed and healed.
EMDR appears to have a direct biological effect on the central nervous system. Recent use of SPECT scans (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomograpy) by Bessel van der Kolk, the leading researcher into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at Boston University, is the first proof that therapy may undo at least some of the trauma’s damaging effects on the brain.
In a recent study, subjects diagnosed with PTSD were given SPECT scans while recalling a trauma before and after the administration of EMDR treatment. The results showed that after EMDR treatment subjects showed increased activity in the part of their brains called the anterior cingulate which is thought to help integrate emotion and thoughts.
The Next Step is Yours – Take It!
A Personal Letter To YOU,
It takes courage to initiate a change in your life – especially one that has been weighing you down for a long time. It is almost as if that which you want to get rid of, is a familiar friend. In reality it is your enemy, that undermines and restricts you everyday.
Isn’t it time to finally throw the enemy out and live the rest of your life free?
The expertise we have at the Alpine Counselling Clinic is unsurpassed. The thousands of clients we have helped to make significant changes in their lives over the past 30 years, bears good testament to our professionalism and commitment.
If you are hesitant in any way about taking the next step, call the number below and ask for me personally – so we can talk. I guarantee your satisfaction.
Claire Maisonneuve, director Alpine Clinic.