Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)

The following information is adapted from an introductory information guide written by Sidney Singer, EMDR Consultant (permission to use sought)

EMDR was first discovered and developed by Dr Francine Shapiro in the USA, who describes walking in a California park in 1987 and being troubled by disturbing thoughts. She noticed that her eyes were spontaneously moving horizontally back and forth in what are called saccadic eye movements, and that after this had occurred she felt better. She began to incorporate eye movements into some of her therapeutic techniques with encouraging results and then used the eye movements systematically in a formal research trial with 22 sufferers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who had been victims of abuse, attacks, or who were Vietnam veterans.

The results of that study, published in 1989, in the scientific literature, identified EMDR as a rapid and effective therapy that could completely desensitise subjects’ traumatic memories and dramatically alter their self-destructive beliefs.

EMDR treatment has grown rapidly since 1989 and many British clinicians have now been officially trained in the therapy, which in this country is organised by the EMDR Association (UK & Ireland). The scientific and clinical literature is burgeoning with reports concerning EMDR and the treatment has been extended and used successfully for many anxiety-based disorders and most disorders that have their basis in emotional trauma in earlier years.

At the same time, the bulk of research still concern the use of EMDR with PTSD. In the past, PTSD was mainly thought of in terms of war trauma, but nowadays it includes examples of all major emotional trauma, including road traffic accidents, major assaults and rape, physical and sexual abuse, traumas following involvement in public disaster, early attachment difficulties, trauma after medical procedures, etc. It is widely accepted that symptoms such as “flashbacks”, avoidance behaviours, a startle response, sleep difficulties and emotional numbing are common following trauma. These symptoms can persist for many years if left untreated and up until the development of EMDR, other treatments had been problematic, mainly in the length of time they had taken to produce effective change.

How EMDR is used in Clinical Practice

Following in-depth assessment of the client’s presenting problems and other relevant issues in their personal history, time will be taken to explain the treatment and demonstrate the eye movements so that the client is fully prepared for what the treatment involves. The aim is to enable the client to end each session feeling reasonably relaxed, comfortable and free from distress, regardless of the material that may be addressed during the treatment sessions. EMDR requires clients to focus on three main aspects of the trauma. Firstly, a visual image, which is usually that of the most disturbing part of the trauma. Secondly, the negative thought that they have about themselves in relation to the trauma. Thirdly, the location of the disturbance in their body.

Focusing on these aspects, the client then tracks the therapist’s finger across the visual field in rapid saccadic eye movements and after each set of such movements, the client is simply asked to report on what they are experiencing. During the course of this procedure, a decrease in the emotional impact of the traumatic memory usually occurs. This decrease may be gradual but in some cases can be sudden. In addition, the client’s perception of their own part in the trauma can change, often dramatically. Abreaction may occur, which is where disturbing memories that have been forgotten or repressed suddenly come to the surface, often accompanied by the release of painful emotions.

EMDR is an extremely powerful technique, which should only be used by properly trained and experienced clinicians. Dr Shapiro insists that practitioners undertake proper training before clinical use of EMDR and if you are not sure, you should check that your clinician has been properly trained by contacting the EMDR Association (UK & IRELAND).

Dr Clerkin is a fully qualified Europe-accredited EMDR Practitioner, and has been using EMDR in his practice since 2004.

How does EMDR work

Information processing appears to be a major element in the procedure, and Dr Shapiro often describes the technique as an Information Processing Model. One hypothesis is that when disturbing events occur, the normal information-processing system becomes imbalanced or blocked, rather like a record player needle that has become stuck in the groove. The mind goes over and over the same event, replaying it, without it resulting in the degree of information processing that we normally need so that things can move on. It is believed that this is what may be happening when an individual experiences “flashbacks”.

There is some evidence that the eye movements perform a similar function to those that occur during REM sleep (when we dream), which we already know has a vital information-processing function. The eye movements used appear to stimulate the person’s information processing ability when it has become stuck through trauma. Much research is currently in progress to provide more concrete answers (particularly neuropsychological research) as to the precise nature of the effectiveness of EMDR. EMDR also contains within its procedures other elements recognisable from more traditional therapies, which are known to work well. EMDR is quite different from hypnosis and no trance state is induced, no suggestions are made and the changes that occur are purely the result of the client’s own innate and health seeking processes.

The client is always in control of the process.

How can I access treatment?

Dr Colin Clerkin is a clinical psychologist who has completed the full EMDR training, which allows him to practice using this therapeutic approach. He regularly engages in clinical supervision of his practice and updates his knowledge by attending training events in EMDR every year. He is an accredited EMDR Practitioner. If you choose to work with him, he will talk with you about strategies for helping you; then together you can develop a treatment plan, which may include EMDR.

Call 01244 677010, or email Colin to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss your concerns further.

You can read more about EMDR and find links to other EMDR-related sites at www.emdrassociation.org.uk, the UK & Ireland EMDR Association or www.emdr-europe.org, the European governing body.

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