Why I love EMDR - EMDR Lincoln

Written by Kate Southwell on 11th of May 2015
Information about Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) in the UK can be found at http://www.emdrassociation.org.uk/home/index.htm. However, following my last blog about CBT, I thought it was important to talk a little about my experience with EMDR, which I use with approximately half of my private clients.

I was trained in EMDR by Alexandra Richman who gave me a strong passion for the therapy. Prior to this, I had thought that the practice of EMDR sounded a little strange, despite the fact that it is widely used in NHS settings and recommended by NICE guidelines. Before I was trained, I noted that anyone who practiced it appeared to be incredibly enthused about this mysterious treatment option, but I never quite understood what happened in an EMDR session. Ultimately, as EMDR therapists, we do not know how, or why, it works, but the evidence I am seeing in both professional research papers and through my own practice is that it does, with some incredibly positive results. I’ve considered some important points about EMDR below, please do not hesitate to contact me should you wish to discuss these further.

What does EMDR treat?
The current evidence base for EMDR is expanding, at a rapidly increasing rate although the main acknowledged use is for trauma (or PTSD). This can include discrete incidents of trauma such as a car accident or assault, as well as what we call ‘complex trauma’ or ‘type 2 trauma’, which refers to traumatic events occurring over a prolonged period of time. This can include being in a war zone, or being subject to abuse, both in adulthood and childhood. However, in EMDR, we consider that it is possible that a significant number of common mental health problems can originate in traumatic experiences from the past, which expands the difficulties it can treat significantly. I have, for example, treated social phobia by using EMDR to target memories of bullying or humiliation in school; depression, by targeting a memory of an over critical parent; and OCD by targeting an abusive and controlling relationship. Ultimately, EMDR can benefit the majority of people coming forward for treatment; it’s our job in the initial consultation to decide which treatment will be most suitable for you and your specific problem at that time.

What happens in an EMDR session?
EMDR sessions tend to be around 60 minutes long in my practice. In brief, it follows a number of stages which begin with us creating a ‘safe place’ in your mind that you can imagine visiting at the end of each EMDR session, and to help if you have intrusive images and flashbacks between sessions. This can be somewhere you have actually visited, or somewhere you can imagine going to, such as a beach, a mountain top, or a deserted island. I aim to help you connect with your emotions when considering this place, specifically paying attention to how your body feels when you imagine being somewhere so safe, calming and relaxing. We may spend some time on this, also helping you to connect with other, positive sensations and memories, such as times when you have felt a sense of achievement in something, or a sense of feeling valued or worthwhile.

After this, we ultimately look towards ‘processing’ negative experiences and memories. The ‘processing’ phase can take anything from one session to 20 sessions or many more, depending on which memories we decide to target. It involves focusing on the distressing memory, the feelings that brings up for you, and what you think it says about you as a person. We then engage in ‘bilateral stimulation’, meaning we stimulate each side of your brain in turn. This can be done by moving your eyes from side to side (following my hand), or by tapping alternate sides of your body (generally knees), whilst you allow your mind to drift to other memories, feelings, physical sensations and thoughts. In EMDR, we believe that your mind knows best what to think about and experience to ‘heal itself’. We find that during this process, your distress when thinking about the disturbing memory (which can be intense to begin with) reduces. This can have an incredibly positive impact on how you think, feel and behave day to day.

What do I love about EMDR?
The thing I love most about EMDR is that it works. People have come to me with incredibly distressing and life changing past experiences, and have left feeling completely different about them after a relatively short session. The sessions tend to leave people feeling empowered; and as they are fully conscious and in control during the process, they tend to feel they have understood the memory or trauma, and its links to day to day problems, more accurately. This isn’t always the case, and EMDR is a hard therapy to undergo, however, without exception, every client I have used EMDR with has reported positive change.

I also love EMDR because it surprises me, especially as we are not certain as to how it works. However, the increasing evidence base really excites me and as it expands into areas such as eating disorders, addiction and pain management, I can see more and more what a dynamic and exciting cutting edge therapy it is. Current research actually sees chemical changes in the brain in response to a trigger after EMDR has taken place, which emphasises the role trauma plays in how the brain literally works. I think past traumatic events are often underestimated and this is something I aim to overcome in my private practice, to ensure the whole experience of each individual I see is taken into consideration. Events that have perhaps been forgotten from childhood, and may seem insignificant now, can have a massive impact on how we view ourselves today, and it is our job to jointly identify these events and target them with EMDR.

Finally, I love EMDR because it is a very real and emotional therapy. Clients often feel emotional, but incredibly satisfied after an EMDR session as it ultimately helps them to connect with real, raw emotions, which is often why people seek therapy in the first place. It cuts right to the chase of how the individual feels, and the emotions that perhaps are cropping up each day, making it feel relevant and real. As with CBT, I feel privileged to have an insight into the world of my clients’ emotions and intense previous experiences, and feel honored to be trusted with guiding them through the process of their brain healing.
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