EMDR, or "Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing," is a therapy that was created in the 1980s as a way to help people who have experienced traumatic events. EMDR has been described by psychologists as a relatively new therapy, which has been further developed and elaborated over the years to be an effective and acknowledged therapeutic method.
Some events can leave a deep and lasting impression on people’s lives. For some, processing the event on their own terms is the most natural thing to do. Others develop psychological problems, often as a result of re-experiencing the traumatic event in frightening images (flashbacks, intrusive images) and nightmares.
Traumatic experiences can have a lasting impact on people's lives. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a type of anxiety-based disorder, is often caused by a specific, horrific event - or a series of traumatic experiences. Some people process the emotional reaction to these events on their own. Others develop psychological problems, usually whereby the traumatic event is being re-experienced in fearful images (flashbacks) and nightmares.
A lot of scientific evidence has shown that EMDR is an effective treatment. In my clinical practice I also see that many clients respond well to it. EMDR is a brief therapy, so it's very helpful for people who have experienced one single traumatic event. After a few sessions, they're able to continue with their daily activities like work and study. But EMDR is also very helpful for people who have endured longer-lasting traumatic events or when the problems are more complex. In these circumstances EMDR obviously requires more time.
When you come to see me, you and I together will assess the specific circumstances that have led to your psychological problems. This includes taking into account your individual strengths and weaknesses, as well as how much difficulty you are experiencing as a result of them. Based on this information, we will decide together whether trauma treatment – specifically EMDR – is the best option for you.
In an EMDR session I will ask you to recall your traumatic event, in particular the associated images, thoughts, and feelings. At first I need this to learn more about the traumatic event.
I will ask you to recall the traumatic event again, but now I will ask you to distract yourself by tapping on your shoulders or legs. These distractions are called a set. After each set there is a little break during which I will ask you what comes up.
This procedure usually results in a stream of thoughts and images but also feelings and bodily sensations. Usually something changes after each set. After each set, I will ask you to focus on what you noticed as the most obvious change.
After a number of sets, memories fade and become less powerful. Then it becomes easier to think about and process an event. However, it is also possible for less pleasant aspects of a memory to come forward. Often new insights or thoughts arise that provide a more meaningful implication of what actually happened. These effects contribute to an event becoming more integrated into one's life.
The effects of an EMDR session can continue for a couple of days, and it's normal for new images or feelings to arise. It's usually comforting to know that this doesn't last for more than three days. To get the best understanding of this new balance, I recommended that you keep a brief diary of these changes so we can discuss them in the next session.
EMDR has been shown to work for treating traumatic memories. Exactly how EMDR works is still uncertain. In any case, the natural and normal processing seems to be stimulated by the bilateral stimulation (tapping your shoulders or legs). There is also a lot of scientific research that shows that bilateral stimulation increases the access to memories, and that the bilateral stimulation in EMDR automatically leads to physical relaxation. This combination of effects influences how we deal with our memories. As a result, our memories change and will be stored differently in long term memory, in a less emotional way.
Memories and images play an important role in a variety of psychological problems and disorders, including chronic pain, eating disorders, and depression. When we are stuck in a negative memory or image, it can be hard to move on. I also use EMDR to help people with burnout and other work related issues.
Dr. Michiel Bosman
Consultant Psychiatrist & Executive Coach