EMDR and the Heineken Effect
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Sandra Figgess MSc UKCP EMDR AIT
26th November, 2007
My experience of EMDR both as a practitioner and as a recipient is that it is the therapy that reaches the parts other therapies can’t reach because it works on body, emotion and mind simultaneously and is able to access and process bodily memories even when they are preverbal.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) is an awkwardly named and relatively new form of psychotherapy which has been demonstrated by rigorous research to be particularly effective for the relief of post traumatic stress. It is recommended by NICE as the treatment of choice for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is also effective in treating more chronic problems such as anxiety, phobias and lack of self confidence.
In 1987 a psychologist called Francine Shapiro was walking through a park thinking about something that troubled her. She happened to notice that her eyes were darting left and right and at the same time she came to a resolution on the matter that was troubling her. She experimented further with herself and with colleagues and discovered that deliberately moving her eyes while focusing on disturbing thoughts affected the way she felt about the material. Further testing followed - initially with Vietnam war veterans who had been suffering form PTSD. Many of these men had been in traditional therapy for 15 – 20 years but continued to have nightmares and flashbacks and feel as if they were reliving the war. When they were treated with EMDR many of them were completely relieved of PTSD symptoms with a small number of sessions. From this initial research Francine Shapiro and colleagues developed a protocol to maximise the positive effect of this discovery.
In spite of its name, it is not necessary for EMDR to work with eye movements as such and it has been found that a variety of ways of providing right/left alternating stimulation is just as effective. Common alternatives to eye movements are using earphones with left/right sound or tapping gently on the clients hands. In some situations the client is supported to tap them themselves alternately on the upper arms in a “butterfly hug”.
For purposes of research EMDR works with a tight protocol and has tended to focus on trauma symptoms arising from a specific event or series of events. However in practice EMDR can be used more flexibly and has been used to treat a wide range of psychological distress. Because the body remembers experiences which our conscious minds can not fully recall this can be a way into working with very early and even preverbal distress. Although EMDR’s effects tend to be particularly dramatic and rapid with one off traumatic events, more complex trauma histories do respond well to EMDR over a longer period of time.
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