What is EMDR?
EMDR & PTSD
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a relatively new treatment that’s been found to reduce the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The process involves bilateral stimulation. This is the use of visual, auditory or tactile stimulus in a rhythmic left-right pattern. For example, visual bilateral stimulation could involve watching a hand or moving light alternating from left to right and back again. Auditory bilateral stimulation could involve listening to tones that alternate between the left and right sides of the head. In EMDR, this takes place while recollecting traumatic or distressing memories.
Your First Session
In your first session, we’ll take a thorough history and discuss the memories you would like to target for EMDR processing. You’ll rate these memories in relation to how they make you feel now (for example, if they cause you stress or anxiety), so we can start with some easier ones while you’re getting used to the process.
As you will be exposing yourself to these memories in detail, you may also be asked to prepare or recall a relaxing memory, create a relaxing environment, or practice some relaxation techniques.
When processing a memory, you’ll be asked to choose a phrase which best describes how you feel about it now. This is mainly so there is an easier way to see how true that statement feels to that memory as you start processing it.
You will also be asked to perform a ‘scan’ of your body to see if you feel anything when bringing up a memory. Some memories can create butterflies in your stomach or make your palms feel clammy. This is important information. You may think a memory doesn’t affect you, but your body’s physical response is telling you something different.
During EMDR, you’ll be asked to recall the memory before following the lights, audio or vibration. Allow your thoughts to flow while keeping track of the stimulation. As the memory plays out, it might go faster, slower or you may find you skip a section. This is completely fine, and it doesn’t mean the EMDR isn’t working. It’s simply how your brain is processing that memory. Sometimes you may find yourself recalling a different memory completely. Try not to worry – it could be connected even if you don’t feel like it is.
You might be asked to repeat the process until your initial response to the memory has lowered. A scale called Subjective Units of Disturbance (SUD) is used to see how much disturbance the memory causes. Some may take a while to lower while others can go through quickly. There may be moments where you feel like there’s no change at all, but a few days later or in your next session your response is significantly lower than it was before.
Pros and Cons of EMDR
EMDR can be exhausting. You’re exposing yourself to traumatic and uncomfortable memories, so it can take its toll on you. After treatment, you may experience vivid dreams or flashbacks and it’s perfectly normal to feel distressed or on edge. This is why it’s important to go over a safe memory and use relaxation techniques if needed.
However, EMDR is an incredibly effective treatment. In comparison to CBT, it can help clients recover faster from traumatic experiences and PTSD. Research shows you’ll need fewer sessions to achieve the desired result. This is largely due to the more confronting nature of the therapy.
Once a memory has been processed and the stress or anxiety produced by it has been lowered, you can recall that memory again and pair it with a positive thought or phrase. If it is brought up again, the memory will be linked with a different association. For example, when remembering a traumatic experience, instead of thinking ‘that was scary’ you’ll have a more positive response.