What is EMDR?
Given time and space to recover, the mind can often heal itself naturally of psychological injury just as the body can heal a cut or a broken bone. Much of this natural psychological healing occurs during sleep through dreaming, particularly during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Recent Scandinavian research described dreaming as “hoovering the brain out” whereby the brain tries to sort out recent events, updating old information and solving, or trying to solve disturbing problems. However, when we suffer disturbing or traumatic events, these can be far more difficult to make sense of and such events can cause changes in how we think, feel or behave including disturbed sleep patterns, reoccurring nightmares or repetitive disturbing themes in our dreams.
In 1987, Francine Shapiro presented her research and development of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) and demonstrated how it utilised this natural adaptive process in order to successfully treat the psycho-physiological difficulties caused by traumatic events. While her initial research focused on EMDR’s effectiveness in working with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), her further research and extensive international research and development over the last 30+ years, has demonstrated how EMDR can be used effectively to treat a wide range of mental health problems throughout the world.
What happens when you are traumatised?
Most of the time, the brain routinely manage all the new information and experiences that occur in everyday life without the conscious mind being aware of it. However, when something out of the ordinary happens, perhaps something sudden and life-threatening like a serious car accident or physical assault, our inbuilt survival mechanisms flood our systems with stress hormones, including adrenalin and cortisol, to maximise our ability to survive, to immediately fight or run from threat. However, when there is no escape, our internal systems can become overwhelmed, we might freeze up, unable to move or even shout or scream. This overloading can result in disturbing events or experiences becoming frozen or log-jammed in our internal system; such memories remaining unprocessed or only partly processed along with the feelings of fear, anger or panic that were caused at that time. These unprocessed memories can become locked into an isolated memory network and remain associated with those same intense feelings and emotions which continue to cause disturbance or distress whenever triggered. “Triggers” can sometimes be obvious by their similarity, as with a second car crash, but often they become more obscure because of the passing of time and the many other psychological associations that may have occurred whenever triggered during that passage of time.
As a part of our natural protective system, disturbing events that happened some time ago, particularly in childhood, can be dissociated, locked away in a different memory network, to protect someone from the awfulness of what happened. It can appear forgotten or, if able to be recalled, can perhaps be dismissed as somehow unimportant or cause feelings of being cold or numb. Sometimes such memories can cause fear, anger or panic that appear out of proportion to whatever is happening in the present, it can affect our ability to trust or socialise with others, even cause the need to isolate or wish to commit suicide. The purpose, and effectiveness, of EMDR is to help create the connections between the brain’s memory networks that have been inhibited by past trauma and enable it to process the traumatic events using the brain and body’s natural healing process. In effect, EMDR helps the brain to put a distance between past and present, to help it recognise the traumatic event/s as firmly in the past and enable the brain to adapt to a better way of being in the present.
What can EMDR be used for?
EMDR has been successfully used to treat:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Sleep problems and nightmares
- Traumatic loss and grief
- Addictions and other habitual behavioural problems
- Physical pain associated with trauma including phantom limb pain
- Self-esteem and performance anxiety
- Personality Disorders
- & others.