EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, and has been used to treat trauma for over 3 decades. Research supports EMDR as an effective therapy for treating trauma, and it has also been used to treat other conditions where strong emotions are associated with life events. These conditions include phobias, panic attacks, complicated grief, anxiety, stress, and sleep problems.
When memories and feelings associated with a traumatic event are not processed effectively by the brain, they are stored in the limbic system and the distressing emotional and physical symptoms such as those present in PTSD continue to be triggered in the present. EMDR facilitates the connections in the brain’s memory networks in order to allow the traumatic memory/memories to be processed naturally.
EMDR is different to “talk therapy” and uses standardised procedures which include focusing simultaneously on spontaneous associations of traumatic images, thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, and bilateral stimulation (most commonly in the form of eye movements). Following a thorough assessment, processing through eye movements – or other form of attentional stimulation if eye movements are not the most appropriate to an individual’s presentation – is undertaken with a target memory along with the associated thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations.
Results and length of treatment will vary, but research shows that a significant proportion of individuals will benefit from EMDR and outcomes include a substantial reduction in the intensity of the triggers, memories, images, emotions, and maladaptive thoughts related to the trauma. This translates to decreased distress, a reduction in symptoms, and improved function across many areas of the person’s life.
There are some conditions that may exclude an individual from being able to undertake EMDR, and some risks such as increased physical sensations, emotions, or memories during or after an EMDR session. However, your therapist can discuss these with you and can support you to manage these and address them if they occur.
EMDR is endorsed by a number of organisations including WHO, APA, APS, Phoenix Australia, and Medicare.