Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Lynn Barnes UKCP AND BACP reg. Psychotherapist
10th October, 2009
EMDR is a technique that mental health professionals (for example counsellors or psychotherapists) can use, when trained, to help relieve the symptoms of anxiety, phobias and post traumatic stress. EMDR can be used as a specific intervention in short term psychotherapy, for example with a spider phobia or relive flashback after a car accident, or as part of long term psychotherapy where deeper work and a wider context is covered.
In 1987 Francine Shapiro, then a psychology graduate in America, noticed that as she walked through a park the disturbing memories she was thinking about started to go. She could recall them but they were not as valid of distressing. She found that when a disturbing thought came to her mind her eyes began to move rapidly. After that she did research with clients and found the same results. In 1990 she expanded the name to include the concept reprocessing.
The primary goal of EMDR is to release the person from dysfunctional ties of the PAST so that adaptive responses can be made in the PRESENT and allow the person a better FUTURE.
Considerations for EMDR Treatment
• Post traumatic stress can happen after a traumatic event in your life for example a car accident, being a victim of crime such as mugging or rape, or having a life threatening diagnosis such as cancer. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) approve EMDR as a preferred treatment for trauma symptoms.
• Phobias and resulting anxiety such as fear of spiders, using certain types of transport, giving presentations are suitable for this type of treatment.
• The minimum amount of sessions for EMDR treatment is considered three, although more is often required to ensure all stages of the treatment are completed. No maximum amount of sessions is specified. I suggest you plan on 12 and review with your therapist at 6.
• If your current counsellor/therapist is not EMDR trained and you feel this technique would benefit you it is possible to see an EMDR trained person for that specific piece of work and then return to your original therapist. You must discuss your intentions with both therapists.
• EMDR can also be used with specific ‘future’ events that you may consider are going to cause you anxiety, for example giving a presentation or flying.
• Pregnant women that have had a previous difficult or traumatic labour and birth and who are anxious about the upcoming labour can benefit from this technique.
• Adults who were abused as children can be helped with EMDR, although you must check that your therapist has been trained to this level (normally part 3 trained and/or an accredited EMDR practitioner).
• Whilst the treatment is called eye movement, alternatives can be used such as hand taps, music in alternative ears (using headphones) or electronic pulses via a lead held in each hand. Eye movements and hand taps are the most common used.
• EMDR helps a person remember rather than re-experience the event(s) so it can take an appropriate place in their historical past rather than intruding on their present.
What happens in EMDR
EMDR has an eight stage protocol which the counsellor or psychotherapist follows.
1. History of client and planning the treatment
• A family, psychological and physical history will be taken to ensure EMDR is the right treatment option.
2. Preparation and Selecting a Target
• A psychological ‘safe place’ will be created with you and introduce you to the eye movement technique. You follow the therapist’s fingers with your eyes to do this.
• Your therapist will help you identify a target for the procedure from what you tell them. A target is a memory containing an image or body sensation. This could be a flashback or a nightmare as well.
• Once the image has been decided upon the therapist will ask you what you negative belief you have about yourself when you think of the image what you would prefer to believe. You will be asked to rate your beliefs using scales from 1-10 and 1-7. You will also be asked if you have any accompanying body sensations.
• Concentrating on the image and negative belief you will be asked to follow the therapist’s fingers with your eyes. This will happen a number of times.
• Once the desensitization is finished the positive belief about yourself will be installed using eye movements again.
6. Body Scan
• You will then be asked to mentally scan your body to see if you have any positive or negative feelings. Eye movements are used again to either desensitise negative feelings or strengthen positive ones.
• The closure depends on the stage reached during the session. If all memories have been reprocessed then you will discuss your experience of EMDR. If there are outstanding memories your therapist and you will re visit your safe place and use some relaxation methods until your next session.
• This is a way of closing your experience of EMDR and ensuring there is no more targets to be worked on.
Finding an EMDR Trained Therapist
If you think EMDR would help you deal with your issue make sure they have received the appropriate training. Part 1 as a minimum, part 2 preferably. Part 3 is for more complex issues and not completed by all EMDR trained counsellors and therapists.
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