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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming

Psychotherapy has come a long way since its inception, and most especially over the past hundred years or so. Many new techniques have found their way into the cache of skills that psychologists and psychotherapists have at hand to help their clients through difficult times in their lives.  EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is an example of one such development.

This relatively new form of therapy was introduced in 1987 by Dr. Francine Shapiro. Dr. Shapiro came across the methodology almost by accident, as she was walking through a park one day. She realised that eye movements could alleviate the tension she experienced around her own trauma and she decided that this phenomenon was worth investigating further. In an interview with PsychCentral, Dr. Shapiro outlined her discovery of the technique:

“I discovered the effects of the eye movements that are now used in EMDR therapy one day as I was taking a walk. I noticed that disturbing thoughts I had been having had disappeared and when I brought them back they didn’t have the same “charge.” I was puzzled since I hadn’t done anything deliberately to deal with them.

“So, I started paying careful attention and noticed that when that kind of thought came up, my eyes started moving rapidly in a certain way and the thoughts shifted out of consciousness. When I brought them back they were less bothersome.”

The effects of trauma on the mind can be significant, long lasting, and very difficult to overcome. As we note on our EMDR page, “When a person becomes very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily, which is a reason why emotionally distressed people can behave so irrationally. One moment can become ‘frozen in time’ and remembering the trauma may feel just as bad as it was going through it the first time”. Because of the brain’s inherent ability to associate sights, sounds, smells and feelings with traumatic events, any one of these things can trigger a traumatic episode and can leave sufferers at the mercy of their past traumatic event for the rest of their lives, if not treated effectively.

Dr. Shapiro furthered her research into the efficacy of the EMD technique in overcoming the effects of trauma by conducting a case study and also a controlled study of 22 people with reported traumatic memories. Half of the controlled study participants were treated with EMD, whilst the other half were given a similar treatment which replaced the eye movement component of EMD with an imagery and detailed description-based therapeutic technique. The EMD-treated participants showed significant reductions in their distress ratings and an enhanced rating of ‘confidence in positive beliefs’ when compared to the non-EMD treated participants. Shapiro’s research and practice led to what we know today as EMDR.

According to EMDR.com, Shapiro noted that “a single session of the procedure was sufficient to desensitize subjects’ traumatic memories, as well as dramatically alter their cognitive assessments.”

At Integrated Health Specialists, we believe strongly in treating emotional and mental health concerns of our clients with tried and tested therapies, avoiding the use of medications where possible. EMDR allows us to address trauma in our clients in a safe environment, helping them to address their traumatic events in such a way that overcomes the control these events have over their lives. Psychotherapy in general is built upon the understanding that only by uncovering the root of the concern being experienced by a client, and developing techniques to manage and overcome these concerns, can sufferers truly move past issues such as trauma.

EMDR therapy helps to reduce distress, diminish psychological arousal, and re-program the mind to avoid the negative beliefs which enhance these symptoms. This is achieved by using an external stimulus (eye movements) to reduce the power of distressing thoughts and feelings and the associated bodily sensations that result. By accessing traumatic memories and addressing the negative associations formed around this trauma, EMDR helps to reprogram the mind to make new associations without the negative implications previously associated with the trauma.

If you’ve experienced trauma which continues to impact upon your daily life, EMDR could assist you in overcoming the negative impacts of this trauma. Research shows that EMDR is effective in the treatment of an incredible range of concerns, including PTSD, panic attacks, phobias, pain disorders, eating disorders, disturbing memories, grief, stress, anxiety, addictions, physical/sexual abuse and more.

During your EMDR treatment, we address the traumatic event/s in short, sequential periods, focusing on an external stimulus  whilst carrying out certain eye movements. In this safe environment, your brain learns to disassociate from these negative reactions and develops new associations in their place. The external triggers for your distress are identified, and we help you to desensitize from these triggers – effectively releasing you from their hold. Finally, you will acquire the skills to adapt to future events which might result in triggering new traumatic events, to ensure that negative associations are not made.

After completing EMDR therapy, you will find that you are no longer sensitive to the triggers (such as images, sounds, feelings) which cause you to relive the trauma that you’ve experienced. That is not to say that you won’t remember the traumatic event, of course. Instead, EMDR helps you to manage this memory without the intense negative reactions you’re accustomed to experiencing. Learning the skills to avoid these reactions into the future also means you’re better equipped to deal with future distressing events.

If you’ve experienced any kind of trauma which has had long-lasting and distressing impact on your life, you could benefit from EMDR, like so many other sufferers have. To find out more about EMDR at Integrated Health Specialists, visit our website, and reach out today.

Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen