What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing is an approach which has given good results in dealing with trauma. It was “discovered” accidently by Francine Shapiro in 1987 and the first controlled research was published in peer-reviewed journals in 1989.
EMDR does not only refer to the use of eye movements in treating trauma. It is a comprehensive psychotherapeutic approach which draws on many different approaches in psychotherapy. These include cognitive, behavioural, body-centred and experiential approaches.
What happens during EMDR treatment?
EMDR is an information processing therapy which uses an eight phase approach. In the case of traumatic memories these are targeted for reprocessing. Attention is also given to current experiences which trigger dysfunctional beliefs, unpleasant emotions and sensations. EMDR is also used to enhance future experiences.
The eight phases consist of:
Phase one: This refers to history taking. You and your therapist will also identify possible targets for EMDR processing. These are as specific as possible – it is easier to measure whether we have done what we set out to do if it is clearly defined to begin with.
Phase two: This phase is devoted to stabilisation and containment skills. You are taught various skills to ensure that you are reasonably stable before starting reprocessing. Our objective is not to make you lose control; instead we want you to maintain as much control as possible.
Phases three to six: These phases involve reprocessing the targeted memories. We identify vivid visual images, negative or irrational beliefs about yourself which are related to the memory, related emotions and body sensations. You also identify a preferred positive belief. We focus on the image, body sensations and so while using some form of bilateral stimulation. You just notice what happens, without working at it. You can then let your mind go blank and see what comes to mind. This is repeated numerous times. People often experience the emergence of insights, changes in memories or new associations. The clinician will help you to determine what the next area of focus will be. During the treatment, one of the procedures is that of dual stimulation. This refers to either bilateral eye movements, tones or taps. During reprocessing the client focuses on memories, present triggers or anticipated future experiences.
Phase seven: This phase involves keeping a diary between appointments, and continued use of self-calming activities.
Phase eight: In this phase we evaluate the previous work and what you have experienced since the previous session.
Does it work?
A number of international associations have evaluated the efficacy of EMDR and recommend its use in dealing with trauma. Some of the organisations which recommend the use of EMDR are the American Psychiatric Association, the Department of Veteran Affairs and Department of Defence (USA) and the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.
Numerous studies have been published which indicate the efficacy of EMDR. A list is published on http://www.emdr.com/efficacy.htm. Information for this summary is mainly taken from http://www.emdr.com.