How it works:
EMDR is specifically used in treating post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and its related symptoms. Patients are told to think about the trigger for their PTSD while making side-to-side eye movements, following a light or stick held by a therapist.
What it could help:
Anxiety, learning difficulties, eating disorders, nausea, muscle tension, flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, panic attacks, nervousness, paranoia, phobias.
Although the original plan of EMDR was to treat all of the above symptoms, it is now almost exclusively, used for PTSD. Evidence suggests that EMDR successfully reduces PTSD and flashbacks, particularly after a single significantly traumatic experience, and a recent Cochrane review concluded that it is superior to some other stress therapies. But the evidence does not explain exactly why or how it works. There are numerous theories but none have proved conclusive. Because of the variation in sufferers and their symptoms, studies cannot easily be pooled together and analysed for effectiveness. Two main theories include likening the effect of EMDR to our rapid eye movement (REM) sleep phase, and its relaxing effects on the brain, while another says the rapid eye movements involved in EMDR reprogramme brain signals to adapt the way we respond to the traumatic experience. The positive effects seen in EMDR could be due to a range of factors involved in the therapy, including support from a therapist and the placebo effect, and may not be specifically a result of the eye movements.
What to expect:
Full EMDR therapy usually takes place over a number of sessions. The first would begin with a full history taken by the therapist, including an outline of traumatic life experiences and what the patient felt at the time. The most traumatic would then be singled out as the most significant and discussed further, with the therapist outlining goals for the therapy in regards to overcoming the related emotions. The next stage would look at desensitising memories, and would involve the patient focusing on the most traumatic aspects of the experience and thinking about them whilst moving their eyes from side to side following the therapist’s finger or pointer in 30-second periodic segments. This part of therapy aims to detach the negative impacts of a specific memory from the event itself. This process would be repeated until the patient is deemed ‘desensitised’ and the memory has been reprogrammed to issue much calmer, more productive responses and emotions.
EMDR is not a cure for all symptoms of stress, but it is a relaxing therapy that can provide positive results when used in the correct way. It is important to ensure that therapists are fully trained and have the experience to suit your needs so be sure to ask for evidence of qualification and training.
Find out more:
You can find an in-depth question-answer post with the researcher who first identified EMDR therapy here. There is also more information and qualifications to look for in a therapist with the EMDR association:
Find a therapist:
It is always best to do this through professional bodies who offer the most reliable and valid resources. It is also possible to be referred through your GP, so do ask their advice if you are suffering from PTSD. Remember it is your decision which therapist you decide to see.
Depends on the therapist’s experience and how many sessions you will need. The number depends on the trauma and symptoms you wish to overcome, but the average is eight. One 1.5 hour session with a therapist will cost around £60.