Healing that comes directly from the brain
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an evidence-based psychotherapy that enables people to heal from disturbing life experiences. Research shows that EMDR is rapid, safe and effective. It is a non-invasive patient-therapist collaboration that does not involve the use of drugs or hypnosis. Most remarkably, it has the ability to offer the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years. Backed up by years of research and literature, it is now recognised by organisations such as the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization as an effective choice of treatment for mild to severe traumatic stress.
the traumatised brain
In the past, psychologists have typically focused more on the impact of ‘shock trauma’ from extreme events such as accidents, wars and natural disasters. However, there is a second type of trauma that is very real and pervasive, yet not captured by the traditional diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Developmental trauma, or attachment trauma, results from a series of repeated, often ‘invisible’ childhood experiences of maltreatment, abuse, neglect, and situations in which the child has little or no control or any perceived hope to escape. Growing up in an environment full of unpredictability, danger, parental inconsistencies or emotional abandonment, many individuals are left with ’hidden traumas’ that disrupt not only their psychological but also neurological and emotional development.
When traumatic events occur, the body's natural psychological and neurological coping mechanisms are overwhelmed. These painful experiences disrupt our brain’s memory system, causing these negative events to be stored in an isolated network in our brain. Many psychological difficulties such as ongoing stress, a feeling of deep shame, unremitting sadness, self-destructive behaviours, difficulties with intimacy, emotional regulation in close relationships, and disruption of personal identity are often caused by this dis-integration within our memory network.
One of the most common symptoms of post-traumatic stress is intrusions. Intrusions occur when our traumatic memories break into conscious awareness and are experienced as if they are happening in the present. This may be manifested as nightmares or flashbacks, but they can also manifest as a kind of emotional reactivity in your day-to-day life. Where there is an unprocessed memory, its associated negative emotions and sensations can cloud your current perceptions.
As with ‘classic’ PTSD, many people who suffer from developmental trauma go through their adult life in cycles of flipping between high emotional reactivity (activation) and feeling numb and empty (Dissociation). For them, what are regarded by others as ‘irrational reactions’ are often the result of these disturbing unprocessed memories from the past emerging and being experienced as if they are present. Sometimes, in order to negate the negative impact of these disturbing experiences or trauma, they may adopt various avoidance strategies, such as limiting contact with the world, withdrawing from others.
The way our mind heals is not dissimilar to the way our bodies heals. If your body is being seriously injured or repeatedly invaded by a foreign object, it will result in a wound that festers and causes pain. Once the blockage is removed, the body heals itself. EMDR therapy facilitates a similar process. By removing the blockages in your memory system, it allows your brain’s memory processing system to move towards health and integration. In other words, the therapist is there to help you activate a natural healing process.
EMDR is about integrating the memory system towards healing. Through the process, you will be able to re-integrate these traumatic experiences in your psyche in a way that they are no longer psychologically disruptive. By accessing the traumatic memory network, EMDR facilitates new learning, eliminates emotional distress, and develops resilience against stress. A number of studies have specifically found EMDR to be more efficient than the competing treatment, and none have found the reverse.
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE SESSION?
The goal of EMDR is to reduce distress in the shortest period of time with a set of comprehensive protocols and procedures.
In the beginning of a session, I may explain some basic premise of EMDR, and how the process will go. We often start with a few relaxing exercises and to make sure that you are comfortable with the eye-movement.
In the processing phase, I may then invite you to recall a specific distressing memory and to think about some positive and negative thoughts associated with it. Then I will guide you through a series of ‘bilateral eye movements’ in sets lasting around 25 seconds. After each set, I will ask you for feedback.
The process proceeds on naturally and you do not have to force any new insights or feelings. Many clients find EMDR easier and smoother than talking therapy. Instead of having to work hard, rethink and reorganise what is in your mind, it is as if you can simply sit back and watch these internal events come up on a screen in front of you.
Towards the end of each session, there will normally be a closing procedure that allows you to provide some feedback, and to re-orientate yourself to the outside world. Please allow yourself time and space to relax after an EMDR session and utilise the relaxation techniques you have learnt.
The nature of EMDR means that after your session the effect of the process will remain in your conscious awareness. You may come up with new insights, thoughts or experience new emotions. You may have vivid dreams or begin to notice differences in the emotional charge you experience in response to events. These effects are natural and are signs that the treatment is working. To help you through this process, you are more than welcome to share these experiences with me via email or even brief phone calls.
The whole process is likely going to take more than one session, especially if we are working through distressing events in your early life. In the start of the next session, we can give some time to consider how you are coping, and whether or not you need to address the same memory as last time or if you are able to move on to something else.
IS EMDR A FORM OF HYPNOSIS?
No. EMDR is not hypnosis. You will remain awake, alert, and in control throughout the session. You can stop if at any point you feel uncomfortable or unable to continue.
What makes EMDR unique?
EMDR has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma.
What sets EMDR apart is the use of Bilateral Stimulation— the stimulation of the two sides of your body in order to connect different parts of your brain. This process has a direct effect on the way the brain processes information.
Instead of relying simply on talking, which often only produces intellectual insights rather than an emotional shift, EMDR is a physiologically-based therapy where the changes can happen on a neurological level. It aims to create visceral and emotional changes rather than just cognitive ones.
The current guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) designate EMDR as an effective treatment for post traumatic stress. It is also recommended by the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, the United Kingdom Department of Health, the Israeli National Council for Mental Health, and many other international health and governmental agencies.