After a distressing or traumatic event, you may feel overwhelmed, which may lead to your memory network becoming ‘stuck’ or ‘frozen’ on a neurological level. This can mean that when you recall the event or situation, you can feel as if you are re-experiencing what you saw, heard, smelled, tasted or felt, and these sensations can be very intense. Sometimes people will do almost anything to avoid experiencing the painful memory, sometimes people are reminded or ‘triggered’ by something into remembering, and sometimes people are subjected to involuntary intrusive thoughts, in ‘flashbacks’ or dreams. If any of these symptoms persist, they can cause significant emotional distress for you.
- EMDR is more than just the eye movements. It is a comprehensive therapeutic approach involving principles, protocols and procedures with the goal of reducing distress in the shortest amount of time
- Your psychotherapist will spend some time getting to know you and your history, both generally and about the traumatic event(s) itself. You are welcome to ask any questions you may have about your treatment
- Your psychotherapist will also spend some time doing some breathing and grounding exercises with you, and a guided visualisation called ‘a safe or pleasant place’. This will prepare you for the processing of the traumatic event, and you will be encouraged to practise these exercises regularly
- Your therapist will use bilateral stimulation until your distress is reduced as much as possible. Your therapist will then install and reinforce positive thoughts and also check whether there is any part of your body where you still feel distress. Before the end of the session your therapist will give you time to feel calm again, using the safe-pleasant place exercise or relaxation techniques.
You may also be encouraged to use a technique called ‘Flash’ – this will be explained to you and this is combined with the EMDR approach.
Sometimes people become very distressed or dysregulated before EMDR therapy. Many therapists will use the Flash technique to help regulate your feelings, and make it easier to process your traumatic memories.
During the Preparation stage of your EMDR therapy, your therapist may introduce the ‘Flash’ technique to you, to reduce your level of disturbance (SUDS). Flash can reduce the disturbance entirely, and often does. With any difficult to process material, your therapist will proceed to the Assessment stage of EMDR.Many clients who participate in this treatment report significant, positive improvements in their emotional and mental wellbeing after these sessions.
The psychotherapist will work gently with you, and ask you to revisit the traumatic moment or incident, recalling feelings surrounding the experience, as well as any negative thoughts, feelings and memories. This will be contained by the psychotherapist, and manageable for you: you will go at your own pace.
The therapist then holds their fingers/hand, depending on your preference, about eighteen inches from your face and begins to move them back and forth like a windscreen wiper. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic – it may be that you will be working remotely with your therapist. EMDR is usually facilitated by hand / eye coordinated movements; by the therapist moving their fingers from right to left and back and you follow with your eyes. However, due to working remotely, you will be asked to bring to mind the traumatic event and will be shown how to use a gentle tapping technique to help process the memory. The more intensely you focus on the memory, the easier it becomes for the memory to come to life. As quick and vibrant images arise during the therapy session, they are processed by the eye movements, resulting in painful feelings being exchanged for more peaceful, loving and resolved feelings. Some psychotherapists use other methods of bi-lateral stimulation such as tapping on alternate hands.
In the process the distressing memories seem to lose their intensity, so that the memories are less disturbing and seem more like ‘ordinary’ memories. The effect is believed to be similar to that which occurs naturally during REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) when your eyes rapidly move from side to side. EMDR helps reduce the distress of all the different kinds of memories, whether it was what you saw, heard, smelt, tasted, felt or thought.
EMDR therapy can help clients replace their anxiety and fear with positive images, emotions, and thoughts.
- Clients are often tired after an EMDR session. It’s a good idea to rest after a session, if this is possible
- The processing may or may not continue after the session. If new insights, thoughts, memories and dreams occur, you will be encouraged to make a note of them, and bring them to your next session
- You are encouraged to use your relaxation exercise daily during your course of EMDR
- Many clients feel better very quickly, and experience a reduction in their troubling post-traumatic symptoms
- You may wish to confide in a trusted partner or friend what you are going through in your EMDR to ensure support between sessions.