Mindfulness and EMDR
EMDR was originally developed to help sufferers of trauma to overcome their pain and remove destructive coping mechanisms such as hyper vigilance and recurring disruptive memories (like those experienced by PTSD sufferers). However, EMDR is increasingly being utilised as a therapeutic technique to help counselling and psychology clients with a range of concerns, including developing mindfulness.
What is EMDR?
EMDR or ‘Rapid Eye Movement and Desensitisation’ underwent clinical trials in the 1980s and was found to have remarkable success in treating clients who had experienced trauma. Later follow-ups found these clients to be enjoying ongoing benefits from the therapy, and the success of the trials saw EMDR become widely used in the treatment of trauma around the world.
The technique is based on the notion that the brain is programmed by trauma or a stressful event to react to certain triggers (including sights, smells, and even feelings) in an unhelpful rather than healthy way. These reactions can be troublesome at best and debilitating at worst, for those who suffer from the effects of trauma. PTSD sufferers, for example, may experience flashbacks which result in a panic response and even violent outbursts. Panic attacks, rising blood pressure and hyperventilation are all physical effects likely to be experienced by those who’ve suffered from trauma, but also those who experience anxiety or heightened stress.
EMDR uses the combined effects of rapid eye movement and desensitisation to reprogram the brain’s reaction to certain triggers, and the results are remarkably quick. Unlike many other therapy techniques, EMDR can bring about near-instant relief for clients experiencing the after-effects of trauma. What’s more, the technique is much less invasive and distressing for sufferers than many other therapies.
(For more information on the development of EMDR for treating trauma, see our recent blog, How EMDR Can Help You Overcome Trauma.)
After more than 30 years of research and development into EMDR, the wide-reaching benefits of EMDR are being realised. The therapy is now being used to treat a variety of mental health concerns and has more recently begun to be used to assist in developing mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
No doubt you’ve heard the term ‘mindfulness’ over the last few years, as the concept has grown in popularity. According to Mindful.org;
“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Essentially, mindfulness is the ancient solution to the human tendency to obsess about the past or the future, rather than focusing on the here-and-now. This behaviour makes us anxious and can result in a range of negative effects on the mind and body. By bringing our focus back to the present moment and observing without judgement or criticism, we can alleviate stress, raise our awareness, gain insight into ourselves and into others’ behaviours, reduce the effects of (or eradicate) mental illness, and even experience health benefits. In fact, the mental and physical health benefits of mindfulness have been proven in countless studies.
These studies have shown benefits for sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as positive results for those suffering from depression, chronic pain, and anxiety.
The beauty of mindfulness is that its effects, like those of EMDR, can begin to be felt immediately. Practicing mindfulness for even short periods of time can have an instant effect on mood and emotion. Even the simple act of practicing mindfulness – no matter how ‘successfully’ focused is maintained, nor how distracted the mind might be – has positive effects.
How is EMDR helping with mindfulness?
Many people practice mindfulness at home, hoping to cultivate focus, clarity and calm in their lives. And although mindfulness is something that can be practiced alone, it can be difficult to maintain motivation and concentration. For those suffering with trauma, mindfulness can be particularly challenging, as the practice of sitting still with one’s own thoughts can give the mind an opportunity to relive past traumatic or stressful events, or even begin to fret about the future. It’s important to note that this is completely normal for many people. And that’s where EMDR comes in.
Both EMDR and mindfulness are based on being grounded in the moment; observing the comings and goings around us without reacting, judging or self-criticising. For this reason, mindfulness and EMDR go hand-in-hand and can become a powerful treatment duo for those who have suffered trauma. Whilst mindfulness aims to help us relax and accept the present moment, negative and traumatic experiences can be difficult to overcome. EMDR helps to break down these negative patterns of behaviour and reprogram our minds to have healthy responses to previous triggers, acting as a booster to mindfulness and helping to keep us grounded and focused calmly on the present.
To find out how EMDR could help you to overcome trauma, reduce anxiety and develop mindfulness, get in touch with Integrated Health Specialists today.