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  • Writer's pictureCharlotte Wallwork

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy treatment that alleviates the distress associated with traumatic memories. It involves using side to side eye movements combined with talk therapy in a specific and structured format.

Eye Movement Therapy

Through accessing and processing traumatic memories and other adverse life experiences, our counsellors can help you work towards reformulating your beliefs.

How does it work?

During EMDR therapy the client attends to emotionally disturbing thoughts whilst simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus such as lateral eye movements, body tapping or sounds.

In successful EMDR therapy, painful events can transform how clients think about their experiences. For example, a rape victim shifts from feeling self-disgust and self-blame to believing that, “I survived it and I am strong.” The aim is for clients to leave EMDR counselling feeling empowered by previous traumatic experiences.

EMDR therapy involves attention to three time periods: the past, present, and future. Focus is given to past disturbing memories and related events. Also, it is given to current situations that cause distress and to developing the skills and attitudes needed for positive future actions.

EMDR does not need you to talk in detail about the traumatic memory. Instead, we ask you to give some short feedback in-between ‘sets’ of eye movements before beginning another set, and so on until the distress reduces.

Phase 1: History-taking

  1. The therapist assesses the client’s readiness and develops a treatment plan.

  2. Client and therapist identify possible targets for EMDR processing. These include distressing memories and current situations that cause emotional distress.

  3. Emphasis is placed on developing specific skills and behaviours that the client will need in future situations.

Phase 2: Preparing the client

  1. The therapist ensures that the client has several different ways of handling emotional distress.

  2. The therapist may teach the client a variety of imagery and stress reduction techniques the client can use during and between sessions.

Phases 3-6: Processing the memory

In phases three to six, a target is identified and processed using EMDR therapy procedures. These involve the client identifying three things:

1. The visual image related to the memory

2. A negative belief about self

3. Related emotions and body sensations.

4. The client identifies a positive belief.

The type and length of these sets are different for each client. At this point, the EMDR client is instructed to just notice whatever spontaneously happens. After each set of stimulation, the clinician instructs the client to let his/her mind go blank and to notice whatever thought, feeling, image, memory, or sensation comes to mind.

When the client reports no distress related to the targeted memory, they will be asked to think of the preferred positive belief that was identified at the beginning of the session. At this time, the client may focus on it during the next set of distressing events.

Phase 7: Keeping a log

  1. The therapist asks the client to keep a log during the week. The log should document any related material that may arise.

  2. It serves to remind the client of the self-calming activities that were mastered in phase two.

Phase 8: Evaluating treatment results

  1. Examining the progress made thus far. The EMDR treatment processes all related historical events, current incidents that elicit distress, and future events that will require different responses

During therapy sessions, you are supported to recall a traumatic event and at the same time receive bilateral stimulation. This means receiving stimuli in a rhythmic pattern. The stimuli can be something you hear, see or feel, for example:

  • Tapping movements on different sides of your body.

  • Tones played through one ear and then the other ear whilst wearing headphones.

  • Moving your eyes from side to side.

EMDR helps you process the negative images, emotions, beliefs and body sensations associated with traumatic memories. These are often memories that are "stuck" and can contribute to a range of mental health problems. Eye Movement Desensitization helps you see things from a different perspective and relieves the symptoms you were suffering.

Risks and side effects

Talking and thinking about emotional problems can be difficult, and for this reason, some people can feel worse before they feel better. We work with you to manage strong emotional reactions and talk through what you are experiencing and feeling.

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