EMDR is an innovative treatment originally developed for treating traumatic memories, where people might be struggling with flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive thoughts, perhaps as a result of being in combat zones, or from violence or abuse.
The repetitive nature of flashbacks may represent the mind’s attempts to process a memory that can’t be fully understood or accepted. The person might feel as if they are re-living the trauma every time, rather than just remembering it, and it can be extremely alarming. It may leave them feeling the world is no longer safe, now experienced as threatening and dangerous, and that they don’t have effective ways to defend themselves.
EMDR allows the traumatic memory to be brought to mind in the safety of the therapeutic setting. This is done whilst following the therapist’s moving fingers, or sequences of lights, or other forms of bilateral stimulation (BLS). The eye movements may reproduce the emotional processing thought to occur during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep phases. The memory is processed and integrated and now becomes just a memory rather than a raw, unprocessed reliving of the traumatic experience.
EMDR also involves reconnecting with positive resources within ourselves – when we felt confident, capable and in control. Often these coping skills are lost when in the grip of trauma and EMDR processing can be used to bring these inner resources back. Rather than ‘freezing’ in the face of threat, we now become able to use our own strengths to deal with things.
The outcomes for EMDR are impressive. Its application has been extended to a range of other psychological conditions, sometimes in combination with other more conventional therapies. Like all therapies, it seeks to understand dysfunctional ways of relating to difficulty, and to enable people to live effectively again.
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