EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, stands alongside Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in the NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) guidelines as being a treatment of choice for PTSD and other trauma-related presentations.
EMDR can also be used for a wide number of other psychological problems and your therapist will be able to find out during an assessment whether this is an approach that might be helpful for you. The exact mechanism by which it works is subject to continuing research, much of which falls into the field of neuroscience, and new understandings are gained on a regular basis. The important fact is that it works and has been shown to be effective in a huge number of research trials over the years.
EMDR is classed as a therapy which spans both cognitive and body-oriented approaches. EMDR is part of the psychosensory therapies that can achieve a deeper level of processing and healing than might be possible by purely cognitive work. This is achieved by accessing sensory and deeper body feelings in addition to thoughts and emotions, allowing ‘frozen’ or ‘paralysed’ trauma memories to be freed up and viewed from different perspectives compared to when the experience first occurred. This level is reached via what is known as ‘bilateral stimulation’ which can be given to the client in the form of eye movements (as the name suggests) across the visual midline, but can also be in the form of sound or touch.
What does it look like?
EMDR differs from conventional talking therapies in a number of ways:
- First, there is much less talking and more emphasis on what you experience emotionally and in your body.
- Secondly, the therapeutic relationship is different in that your therapist (after a thorough assessment and potentially other work, depending on your individual needs) will explore with you how EMDR might work best for you. This involves choosing the way in which the EMDR is administered. This can be done manually or involving specialist EMDR equipment.
Eye movements can be achieved with the aid of simple side-to side movements of the therapist’s hand/fingers at an appropriate distance from the client’s eyeline. This may look like hypnosis, but it is different in that you will be in control at all times.
Alternatively, here at the Oxford Development Centre we also have state-of-the-art EMDR light machines which allow for an entirely consistent and regulated experience where the client follows a pulse of light from side to side along a ‘bar’. The colour, speed and intensity that is right for you will be worked out together with your therapist. This can be a good alternative for those who may be reluctant to have a therapist sitting closer to them. We also have headphones which can play specially designed music or vibrating hand-held pads which alternate from side to side which allow clients to deepen their experience by being able to close their eyes. We will always explore what feels most comfortable for you.