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EMDR Therapy: Changing the way traumatic memories live within us

What is EMDR therapy?

EMDR stands for Eye-Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy and is one of the leading trauma therapies today. EMDR is a recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the World Health Organisation for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It is also used more widely for many other mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, phobias, stress and grief. With an understanding that many of these problems have their roots in past disturbing events.

With my specialism in perinatal trauma I have expertise in using EMDR therapy to help people who have experienced traumatising events around efforts to conceive, during pregnancy, birth or in the postpartum year. For example infertility, complications during pregnancy, around birth, after birth and through the first years of life.

What is trauma?

Our brain stores memories like files in a filing cabinet. Some events are so overwhelming that our pre-frontal cortex (the rational ‘thinking’ and reasoning part of our brain) goes off-line temporarily whilst our amygdala (the brain’s fear centre) responds to the threat. This is an effective way of protecting you. However, trauma is what happens as a result. Memories of these events are not stored properly in the filing cabinet. They are fragmented, accessible, and can be easily triggered causing them to ‘replay’. Which means people  keep reliving the distress.

Trauma is disconnection from OURSELVES and THE PRESENT MOMENT.

How does EMDR work?

EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to ‘process’ these traumatic memories, allowing you mind to file them away as with other memories, as it naturally knows how to do. This requires having a dual attention on ‘then’ and ‘now’. It is also similar to bilateral movements your eyes make during rapid eye-movement (REM) sleep. This means the memories are less easily triggered and less distressing to think about. In essence EMDR changes the way the memories live in you.

What to expect with EMDR therapy

NICE guidelines suggest 8-12 sessions for a single-event trauma. For complex trauma involving lots of events, perhaps in childhood, this is usually longer. How many sessions is unique to you. Sometimes we might begin processing as soon as session three. Other times it can take several weeks or months to do the preparation phases.

Preparation/stabilisation phase

You will firstly develop resources and positive coping skills, seeing the body as a resource for greater emotional stability. It is important to help you feel safe before you dip your toe into the traumatic memories themselves. Also you need to build trust in your therapist. A large part of the efficacy of any therapy is due to the therapeutic relationship. EMDR is no different.

Processing

When you feel comfortable I will ask you to visualise parts of the traumatic event in detail whilst at the same time doing bilateral stimulation (such as eye movements, tapping alternate hands or listening to noises). I will ask you to ‘just notice’ what ever shows up.

This might feel strange because processing can occur in thoughts and memories or in the body. Sometimes people feel like they are re-experiencing physical sensations associated with the trauma. But always being aware that you are ‘here now’ (not inside the trauma memory). This can take one session or several, but over time EMDR leads to changes in how you think and feel about the traumatic incident, reducing distress and improving everyday functioning.

Processing can continue between sessions and I will ask you to keep a record of any thoughts, feelings, dreams or reflections so you can reflect on this the following session.

Post-traumatic growth

The final stage is to think about current difficulties and prepare for future events. Working on moving forward after trauma.

Can EMDR therapy be done online?

I often get asked if EMDR can be done online, and the answer is a resounding YES! EMDR works well online. Even before the pandemic many of my EMDR colleagues were working this way. There are online platforms (similar to zoom) which allow access to bilateral eye-movements and sounds. So you have EMDR without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Do people prefer EMDR to other types of trauma therapies?

Often I find people do prefer EMDR to other types of therapy. EMDR processes traumatic memories quickly. There is very little between-sessions work (unlike CBT, for example). It also doesn’t require you to disclose so much information about the traumatic event which can be helpful when something is particularly distressing or where there is shame around the event. EMDR also feels quite ‘organic’, because your own mind does the work, giving you a sense of agency over the process.

Many prominent people have also spoken about their positive experiences of EMDR therapy, including Prince Harry  and Jameela Jamil.

What next?

You have taken the first courageous step by deciding to have therapy. Deciding what type of approach would be a good fit for you can be tricky. Contact me and I will help you every step of the way.

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Dr Miriam Inder ~ Helping you have Better Beginnings