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What is EMDR?

By on 29 October 2015 in General

EMDR stands for ‘Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing’. It’s a form of integrative therapy that is proving effective for people who have suffered from a traumatic experience such as abuse, a natural disaster, a bad accident etc. Some people with NEAD are being offered it as an alternative to cognitive behavioural therapy.

So, how does it work? When you go through something traumatic, your stress levels shoot through the roof and your brain is unable to process the information it is receiving in the normal way. The event is, in effect, frozen in the memory. This means that when something triggers it, people will re-experience the event as if they are living through it again…the sights, sounds, smells etc…which is deeply distressing. This reliving of an event is sometimes called a ‘flashback’.

EMDR works by ‘unfreezing’ the event and helping the brain to process it in the normal way. This is done by stimulating each side of the brain alternately in a way that is believed to be similar to what happens in the brain during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This stimulation can be done with eye movements, with sound or with tapping. Some therapists use a ‘light bar’ and others may just move their finger back and forth in front of your eyes. Sound may be made by clicking the fingers or with sounds through headphones, alternating from ear to ear. Tapping involves the therapist tapping on your hands alternately or perhaps putting something that vibrates in each hand and using those alternately.

It is very important to see a properly trained and qualified EMDR therapist. They will start by taking a thorough history including the symptoms you are having, any medication you are on and what type of support system you have in place. They will also explain clearly what EMDR is and will talk you through what will happen in the session. They should allow you plenty of time to ask questions. In the next stage, the therapist will take you through some relaxation exercises. These will vary from therapist to therapist but will likely include guided visualisation, breathing techniques or deep muscle relaxation.

Once the therapist feels you are ready, you will then begin with the eye movements, sounds or tapping.  He or she will ask you to focus on a particular distressing memory and will discuss with you your thoughts and feelings around the memory. They will ask you to pick an image that best represents that memory and hold it in your mind while the eye movement or other therapy starts.

You may find yourself feeling very distressed to begin with as you relive the trauma but your therapist will be with you, talking to you, the whole time. The level of distress you feel will gradually reduce as the EMDR therapy helps your brain reprocess the event.

When the process is finished, your therapist will again take time to talk to you and perhaps take you through some more relaxation techniques. The treatment is quite powerful so you may feel some distress for a day or two afterwards and may find that parts of the memory that you had supressed come to the surface. It is a good idea to write down anything that happens so that you can discuss it with the therapist at your next session.

To find out more about EMDR and to find qualified therapists in your area, visit the EMDR Association website here

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