EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, is a form of trauma therapy. It was developed by Dr Francine Shapiro in 1989. It’s purpose is to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories. EMDR has been found to be an effective treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in adults and children. Additional research has found positive results with the use of EMDR for Depression and Anxiety also.
More than thirty studies have been undertaken on EMDR therapy. According the EMDR Institute Inc., some of the studies show that 84%-90% of single trauma victims are free from post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90 minute sessions.
Another study funded by the HMO Kaiser Permanente, showed that 100% of single trauma victims and 77% of multiple trauma victims were no longer suffering from PTSD after six 50 minute sessions. In another study, 77% of war veterans were free from PTSD after 12 sessions.
How does EMDR work on the brain? According to the EMDR International Association:- “No one knows how any form of psychotherapy works neurobiologically or in the brain. However, we do know that when a person is very upset, their brain cannot process information as it does ordinarily. One moment becomes “frozen in time,” and remembering a trauma may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed. Such memories have a lasting negative effect that interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people.
EMDR seems to have a direct effect on the way that the brain processes information.
Normal information processing is resumed, so following a successful EMDR session, a person no longer relives the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to mind. You still remember what happened, but it is less upsetting. Many types of therapy have similar goals. However, EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Therefore, EMDR can be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that helps a person see disturbing material in a new and less distressing way. ”
I was lucky enough to stumble across an EMDR practitioner in my dealings with Victims Services. EMDR is still considered a new treatment in Australia, and unfortunately Victims Services do not fund for this treatment because of that – unexplored bullshit beliefs of the academics. Until the funding status changes referrals can be obtained by your doctor for up to 10 sessions for bulk billed patients.
I had my first session earlier this week. It was the most intriguing experience, as healing is achieved through guided eye movements which trigger the brain – the most complex, fascinating and unbelievably powerful organ of the human body in my opinion.
The EMDR therapy itself is quite simple but the effects are complex.
The practitioner holds two fingers together and moves them bilaterally at a steady pace, while your eyes follow. She did this 20-30 times, then stops and sits in silence for a few minutes while the brain’s doing it’s thing.
Tears started rolling in the first set, and then I bawled – broken! She asked me where the pain was. It was in my heart. I didn’t really have any thoughts, it was pure emotion. After 2 or 3 more sets there were no tears. The pain was dispersed throughout my body, then down into my fingers, then gone. Literally.
As the sets of movements continued, it was like my brain was flicking quickly but thoroughly through a Rolodex of memories and thoughts. Things came up that I’ve never told a soul. Other times it was like watching a movie of my life experiences.
Between each set the brain is working overtime for a few minutes, before it settles. Each time I was asked how I felt, where I felt it and what the level was on a scale of 0-10. Then the guided eye movements start again. After some sets I had a panic attack. (If you cup your hands over your mouth and breathe a few times to inhale more carbon dioxide than oxygen it alleviates the light-headedness.) Some sets triggered an ‘aura’ – I’m epileptic, controlled with meds, but I think it was the repetitive motion. Mostly I felt nauseous after the sets. Extremely nauseous at times!
After the last set stopped I could feel my eyes flickering like I was watching something in my memory. The bizarre thing was that I wasn’t having a single thought. I could feel my mind racing at a million miles an hour, but I was completely blank. I wanted to know why so I asked. My practitioner said young children don’t have the capacity to put some upsetting things into thoughts. So the mind is empty of thoughts but the brain is still processing the feeling or event. Pretty cool. I now understand how and why it is effective as a treatment for kids who’ve gone through trauma as well.
The session lasted 50 minutes and I was so drained when I got home, but that was it.
I felt pretty good. I’ve since had some strange dreams and I’ve been a bit off tap but nothing major. I have 10 sessions to go, and I’m looking forward to being free from the same things that repeatedly keep tripping me up. I’m encouraging Tayah to be open to the idea of EMDR treatment. It can’t help with her bipolar but it could help with her PTSD and anxiety as she continues to learn coping skills.