Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a structured and evidence-based therapeutic approach designed to help individuals process and recover from traumatic experiences. Its efficacy in reducing distressing symptoms has made it a valuable tool in the field of mental health, offering hope and healing to those who have experienced trauma.

EMDR operates on the premise that traumatic memories can become "stuck" in parts of the brain that influence feelings in the present, causing symptoms such as flashbacks, anxiety, and intrusive thoughts. EMDR aims to unlock and reprocess these memories, enabling individuals to integrate them more adaptively into their life narratives.

How does EMDR work?

EMDR typically consists of eight phases:

  1. History-Taking and Treatment Planning: In this initial phase, the therapist gathers information about the client's history, symptoms, and the specific traumatic experiences to be addressed. Together, the therapist and client develop a treatment plan.
  2. Preparation: Clients learn relaxation and self-soothing techniques to help manage distressing emotions that may arise during therapy. They also become familiar with the EMDR process.
  3. Assessment: The therapist identifies target memories or experiences to process. These memories are often linked to the client's distressing symptoms.
  4. Desensitisation: This phase involves the reprocessing of target memories. Clients focus on the traumatic memory while the therapist uses bilateral stimulation (eye movements, sounds, or tapping) to facilitate adaptive processing. This helps reduce the emotional intensity associated with the memory.
  5. Installation: Positive beliefs and self-statements are integrated to replace negative beliefs associated with the trauma. Clients work on reinforcing a more positive self-perception.
  6. Body Scan: Clients identify and process any remaining physical tension or discomfort related to the traumatic memory. This step aims to ensure that the trauma is fully processed at both the cognitive and somatic levels.
  7. Closure: At the end of each session, clients are brought back to a state of equilibrium. They learn techniques to manage any residual distress that may arise between sessions.
  8. Reevaluation: In the final phase, the therapist reviews progress and reevaluates the treatment plan. Any remaining issues or memories are addressed as needed.

These eight phases provide a structured framework for EMDR therapy, allowing clients to work through traumatic experiences and associated distress effectively. The therapy's success often depends on the individual's unique needs and the complexity of their trauma. EMDR should be conducted by a trained and licensed therapist to ensure its safe and effective application.

How long does EMDR take?

EMDR is typically delivered one to two times per fortnight for an average of 6-12 sessions, although some people benefit from fewer, and some from more sessions. In general, the more isolated the traumatic memory being treated, the shorter the treatment tends to be.

Does EMDR work?

Numerous studies have demonstrated the efficacy of EMDR in reducing symptoms of trauma and PTSD. The World Health Organization, Australian Psychological Society (APS), Australian Association of Psychologists Inc (AAPi), and more recently Medicare all recognise EMDR as an evidence-based treatment for trauma-related disorders. Research has shown that EMDR can lead to significant improvements in symptoms, with results that are often as effective as other forms of trauma therapy, such as Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT), however without the need for homework or providing detailed accounts of traumatic memories.

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