What Is EMDR Therapy

what is emdr therapy

What is emdr therapy- an acronym for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – or desensitization and reworking through eye movements, is a particular type of therapeutic approach discovered by the American researcher Francine Shapiro in 1989 and presented in 1990.

The purpose of emdr therapy is to allow the individual to process the trauma and its memory correctly. The EMDR technique focuses precisely on the memories of the trauma or stressful event. The use of eye movements or other forms of alternating right/left stimulation aims to desensitize these memories, making them lose the negative emotional charge they inevitably possess.

According to some research and according to the EMDR technique’s supporters. The results that can be obtained with its use and being positive would come in a much faster way than other techniques used in psychotherapy. As will be seen in the course of the article, however, if on the one hand. This technique seems to have proved to be really useful and effective, on the other hand, it raises doubts and gives rise to controversies.

Did you know that: What Is EMDR Therapy?

In our country, there is the EMDR Italy Association, which, among the various activities, also deals with the organization of EMDR courses and interventions. The association’s official website also contains the list of all therapists qualified to perform the EMDR treatment.

History: What Is EMDR Therapy

The creator of EMDR is Francine Shapiro. Initially, her activities were not related to psychology: Francine received her doctorate in English literature. It was a traumatic experience that changed her life forever. As a result of long treatment, the disease subsided, but the anxiety did not disappear. Then Francine wanted to understand how interconnected the body and the psyche. She first began attending seminars on bodywork and meditation, then enrolled in a doctoral psychology program.

The impetus for the discovery of the EMDR technique was an ordinary walk in the park. After analyzing her behavior, Francine noticed a pattern: as soon as she returned to painful thoughts and memories, her eyes began to move in a certain way involuntarily. Gradually, thoughts and feelings changed for the better.

Francine wondered if eye movements this way only worked for her or if it could help other people too. She began to conduct small experiments at the institute. Francine first named the method EMD (Eye Movement Desensitization) and first officially mentioned it in 1989. He points out that negative feelings decrease in the course of therapy, and the client’s cognitive attitudes change.

Francine Shapiro is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Palo Alto Research Institute and Director of the EMDR Institute. She also founded the EMDR Humanitarian Aid Program, where vulnerable groups around the world can receive therapy. In 2002, Francine received the Sigmund Freud International Award – the main award in psychotherapy.

How does EMDR therapy work?

Treatment with EMDR is based on the theory that disorders resulting from trauma or particularly stressful events result from a rational non-processing, or incorrect processing, of a large amount of information (thoughts, emotions, physical sensations) received by the individual during the trauma or stressful event.

In other words, it is as if the emotional and physical sensations experienced during the trauma remain “blocked” in the individual, recurring even after some time as if the person were still experiencing the event triggering these disorders. In this regard, what is emdr therapy aims to reduce the individual’s suffering by “reactivating” his ability to correctly process the information, sensations, and negative emotions aroused by the memories of the traumatic or stressful event?

What happens in therapy

The Emdr therapist will ask the person to focus their attention on different aspects that constitute the trauma :

  • the most disturbing image (visual level),
  • the negative self-belief (for example: “I am not worthy,” “I am in danger,” etc …) today about the event (cognitive level),
  • the emotion associated with it (emotional level),
  • the physical sensations it still carries with it today (physical level).
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During the focus, the therapist will proceed with a bilateral visual or tactile stimulation. Thanks to Emdr therapy, the first disturbing memory will gradually become less emotionally charged.

Therefore, it will be painful but no longer annoying, eventually leading to emotional desensitization of the event’s memory and an adaptive reworking.

During the simulation, the patient will have highly emotional psychological reactions. In the end, he will perceive that the memory, even though it belongs to him, is no longer part of the present and can therefore move forward and create prospects for himself.

What traumas can be treated with EMDR?: What Is EMDR Therapy

EMDR is used to treat disorders related to trauma and stress whose severity can be more or less high. That is not particularly intense (for example, having suffered humiliations as children that leave a mark even in the adult individual, or humiliations suffered in the workplace, etc.); and to alleviate the ailments deriving from the so-called great traumas that lead to death or in any case seriously threaten the physical integrity of oneself or the surrounding people (for example, natural disasters, severe accidents, etc.).

To give some practical examples, EMDR is currently used to treat:

  • Trauma resulting from a road accident or other serious accidents (work, etc.)
  • Trauma following various types of abuse;
  • So trauma following natural disasters;
  • Trauma underlying the onset of eating disorders ;
  • Bereavement and loss of loved ones;
  • The humiliation suffered by children and/or in adulthood ;
  • Childhood trauma of various kinds.
  • EMDR is also widely used in treating post-traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD ). Which can arise in individuals who have experienced the aforementioned trauma.

Such as depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, personality disorders, panic disorders, and phobias.

Please Note

It is essential to point out that not everyone who experiences a traumatic or very stressful event reacts differently. Some people can recover quickly – even without the intervention of specialists – and return to everyday life. In contrast, others, on the other hand, are unable to recover from the traumatic event, leading to physical and psychic reactions capable of seriously compromising the quality of life.

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How does an EMDR session take place?

Phase 1

The first phase of treatment with EMDR involves executing a careful and thorough medical history of the patient, followed by elaborating an appropriate therapeutic plan. In this phase, the therapist must identify the traumatic or stressful event causing the disorders afflicting the patient and verify his suitability to start and continue with a treatment of this type, evaluating his personal stability and resources.

Phase 2

In the second phase, the therapist must prepare the patient to receive the treatment, informing him of the theories on which it is based and how the session will take place. At the same time, the individual must become aware of the possible disturbances he could manifest both during and at the end of the sessions.

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Phase 3

The third phase consists of evaluating and defining the memory of the trauma, the sensations, and the negative emotions it arouses.

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Phase 4

The fourth phase consists of desensitization, which is carried out through the therapist’s ocular stimulation. Precisely these rhythmic eye movements. That occurs while the patient identifies the traumatic image, and the negative sensations associated with it should favor the re-elaboration of the information. Until that moment, that has remained “frozen” up to the resolution and removal of the sense of discomfort.

An alternative to Eye Movements

As an alternative to eye movements, other forms of alternating left / right stimulation can be used. For example, repeatedly touching the individual’s hands alternately.

Phase 5

The fifth phase consists of the cognitive restructuring of the traumatic or stressful event. The therapist continues with the ocular stimulation.

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Phase 6

In the sixth phase, the psychotherapist, together with the patient, performs a so-called ” body scan ” to check if there are still physical sensations by rethinking the traumatic or stressful event.

Phase 7

The seventh phase is that of closure and verifies the patient’s state of equilibrium. In this context, the therapist will ask the subject to fill in a diary for the following week. He will have to note the appearance of thoughts, sensations, dreams, or images attributable to the traumatic or stressful event.

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Phase 8

The last phase is carried out the week following the session and is used to verify whether new disorders, emotions, etc., have arisen in the patient. That is due to the traumatic or stressful memory that prompted him to undergo treatment with EMDR.

How many are emdr therapy sessions required?

The number of sessions required to resolve the disorders associated with trauma. And stressful events can vary greatly from person to person. Each subject reacts differently and strictly individually to treatment with EMDR.

Are there any side effects following the EMDR session?

At present (September 2019), the use of EMDR does not seem to generate side effects in individuals who undergo it. However, some subjects reported tiredness during and after the session. And the appearance of an increase in discomfort before its reduction at the end of the session.

Effectiveness and Disputes

Effectiveness of EMDR Treatment and Disputes

The possibility of considering this approach as a real psychotherapy treatment.

At the same time, it cannot be denied that EMDR is well established in many countries.

  • American Psychological Association (1998-2002);
  • American Psychiatric Association (2004);
  • International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (2010).

In 2003, the Italian Ministry of Health also approved the use of EMDR in the treatment of disorders related to traumatic events; while in 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO or WHO, from the English World Health Organization ) recognized EMDR as an effective treatment for trauma and associated disorders. In contrast, however, there are also studies whose results do not absolutely support the benefits expected from treatment with EMDR. From some of them, in fact, it would seem that EMDR is no more effective.

Another point is questioned by those who remain skeptical, at least in part. Towards EMDR concerns the possibility of considering this therapeutic approach as a real psychotherapeutic treatment. In fact, some specialists consider EMDR more as a potentially valid tool or technique.

Another reason for controversy concerns the neurobiological changes and the “better communication between the hemispheres.” That should occur in the brain after EMDR sessions, despite the claims of those who support this therapeutic approach. The data obtained so far do not allow us to determine the presence and possibly the extent of such an effect with absolute certainty.

How much does the EMDR cost?

The cost of this particular therapeutic approach is subject to numerous variables. Such as the number of sessions performed, therefore, the duration of the treatment.

Indicatively, an emdr therapy session could cost between 50 and 130 euros approximately; however, these are not standard figures that apply everywhere. Therefore, for more information on this, it is necessary to contact the center/hospital/facility or the specialist. Where you want to perform the EMDR directly.

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Conclusions: What Is EMDR Therapy

As we have seen, views on EMDR can be very different, leading to more or less heated discussions and debates. After what has been said so far, however, the question “Is EMDR effective?” May arise. The answer is not simple, and, above all, it is not unique. As with any other treatment, EMDR can be extremely effective for one individual. And almost useless for another, not to mention all the nuances. That may be present between the absolute concepts of “useful” and “not useful.” Which treatment can prove to be more effective in resolving their ailments?

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