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“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference” (Winston Churchill)

What is EMDR

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and is a method of trauma therapy developed in the late 1980’s by Clinical Psychologist Dr Francine Shapiro.  Since the mid 1990’s EMDR has successfully been used as a method of trauma therapy and is also increasingly being used in training, counselling and coaching.

EMDR enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.

EMDR therapy shows the mind can heal from psychological trauma much like the body recovers from physical trauma.  When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound.  If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.  EMDR therapy demonstrates a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes.    The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health.  If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.

EMDR then is a method that accelerates the processing of traumatic, “frozen” memories and resolves fixed behavioural patterns.

Creation Of EMDR – Shapiro’s Famous Walk In The Park In 1987

American Clinical Psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro noticed by chance during a walk in the park that her distressing thoughts disappeared and their negative effects were lessened when she moved her eyes back and forth between trees.  Following this experience, she tested the effect of deliberate eye movements on herself while concentrating on distressing thoughts.  The positive changes observed led her to extend her experiments with induced eye movements to friends and acquaintances with no known psychiatric disorders.  They were instructed to focus on negative thoughts and the effects associated with these thoughts, while following the movements of Shapiro’s fingers with their eyes.  Encouraged by the success of these further tests, Shapiro developed a standard procedure which she called EMD (Eye Movement Desensitization).  In 1987 she tested the efficacy of EMD on patients diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  The published results showed a significant decrease in levels of distress in the treatment group when compared to the control group.  Between 1987 and 1991 Shapiro further developed the method into what is now the EMDR method.  She first employed EMDR in 1989 for therapeutic work with war trauma victims.  Since the mid-1990’s EMDR has successfully been used as a method of trauma therapy worldwide.

Theoretical Foundations Of EMDR

EMDR is based on Shapiro’s Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model.  Shapiro proposes that humans have an information processing system that generally processes the numerous elements of the experience in such a way that adaptive state is reached which makes learning possible.  Memories are stored in interlinked networks which are organized around the earliest event of a particular category and the associated effect of this event.  Memory networks comprise thoughts, ideas, feelings and sensations which are connected with a particular memory.  If the processing of a memory is incomplete or missing, the original sensations, feelings and distorted thoughts are stored as they are experienced at the time of the event (literally “frozen in time”).  According to AIP, these unprocessed experiences can lead to dysfunction reactions and are the cause of many mental disorders.  EMDR fosters the exploration and processing of negative and distressing memories in order to bring them to an adaptive resolution.

How EMDR Works

EMDR is based on the humanistic approach of therapy.  In short, Carl Rogers’ client-centred therapy, assumes that humans have a natural desire to grow and to integrate experiences, a desire which can develop in a safe setting.  EMDR is a structured therapy that encourages the patient to briefly focus on the trauma memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation (guided eye movements).   It is through the left to right stimulation, that both brain hemispheres are activated, thereby influencing the neural pathways to re-evaluate cognitions and emotions and initiating the self-healing process.

From this, clients often report spontaneous insights into themselves which are linked to their traumatic memories.  This empowers them to comprehend new feelings, thoughts and actions.

Therefore, after only a few sessions EMDR causes the noticeable changes with regard to cognitions, emotions and body experience.

This versatile method of treatment is also well-suited for use in combination with other established therapy procedures and concepts, e.g. speech therapy, behavioural therapy, neuro linguistic programming (NLP), counselling/psychotherapy (based on depth psychology) and can be used as an additional instrument in coaching.

By working with EMDR in this way, it is said to helpful in aiding:

  • Self-esteem Issues
  • Anxiety (e.g. performance anxiety or exam fears)
  • Changing Unwanted Behaviour or trying to adjust to a new situation  (e.g. from an accident or going into retirement)
  • Addiction
  • Allergies
  • Fear (e.g. of going to the Doctors or Dentist or of fear itself)
  • Excessive Grief (e.g. loss of money/work, or a separation)
  • Pain (e.g. neck or back pain, chronic or phantom pain)
  • Phobias (e.g. claustrophobia or panic attacks)
  • Recent or Single Traumatic Event (or related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Somatic Issues (e.g. headaches, or a negative experience with medicines)
  • Sleep Disorders