FAQ about EMDR


How does EMDR Therapy work?

The mind usually heals itself naturally in the same way that the body does. Much of our natural coping mechanisms occur during sleep, in particular during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the ‘dream stage’ of sleep. However, when we experience a traumatic event, our brain’s processing system can get overwhelmed. The memory is not processed, but gets ‘locked’ into the nervous system. Remembering the distressing event may feel as bad as going through it for the first time, because the images and feelings are unprocessed and therefore unchanged.

In EMDR Therapy we work with you to identify a specific issue that you would like to resolve. You are invited to call to mind a particular disturbing issue or event, and notice what images, thoughts, feelings and sensations arise. We then guide you to move your eyes left to right, or instead listen to alternate left/right sounds in headphones or hold a device that creates alternate left/right taps. This ‘bilateral stimulation’ is repeated in sets throughout the session, with pauses and brief reflection in between. This process is believed to activate the brain’s natural healing mechanism, similar to what occurs during REM sleep when your eyes flicker back and forth.

When you recall the memory, it moves from your long-term memory to your short-term memory, otherwise known as working memory. Keeping the memory in your mind while tracking the therapist’s fingers at the same time means that your working memory has to process a lot of information at the same time, therefore ‘overloading’ your working memory. As a result of this, three things usually happen: the memory becomes distant; emotional distress diminishes; and more helpful beliefs emerge. During EMDR sessions you are fully awake, alert and in control at all times.

Following an EMDR session most people report changes in the issue or event that was previously distressing. Memories typically become less vivid and upsetting. The event can still be recalled, but is no longer disturbing. Memories usually also become less intrusive, meaning that symptoms such as flashbacks and nightmares reduce or cease. A person’s beliefs about themselves, other people and the world also change, becoming more adaptive and realistic. This helps to shift issues that commonly occur in the aftermath of trauma such as fear, self-blame, guilt, shame, mistrust and anger.

As you process a series of key memories or issues in EMDR Therapy over time, your trauma symptoms are likely to reduce, more positive ways of thinking will likely develop, and your responses and behaviour will likely start to change. These changes are profound and lasting, because you are addressing core issues on a deep level, rather than just managing your symptoms.

What are the advantages of EMDR Therapy?

EMDR Therapy goes beyond treating symptoms and addresses the underlying core issues ‘beneath the tip of the iceberg’. This results in profound, lasting results. Because EMDR changes the way that the brain processes information and experiences, once an issue has been fully resolved, it is unlikely to re-emerge in the future.
EMDR Therapy has been called an ‘accelerated emotional processing method’ because it has been has been clinically shown to produce results within a shorter time than many other traditional therapeutic approaches.

EMDR does not require you to re-live or describe all the specific details of past traumatic events. This contrasts some trauma treatment models in which you may be instructed to repeatedly recount a traumatic event in full detail until it is no longer distressing.

EMDR facilitates processing in a more rapid and contained way, reducing the risk of you being emotionally flooded or re-traumatised by the therapy experience.

Is there any scientific evidence supporting EMDR Therapy?

EMDR Therapy is one of the most well researched trauma treatment models. Approximately 30 randomised controlled studies have found it to be effective for the treatment of PTSD. In 2010 the Australian Psychological Society (APS) noted it as a Level 1 treatment for PTSD; the highest rating that can be applied to a specific therapeutic approach.

The World Health Organisation endorses EMDR for the treatment of PTSD and EMDR is listed on Medicare Australia’s list of approved Focussed Psychological Strategies.

Is EMDR Therapy used just to treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

No. EMDR has also found to be effective in treating a variety of clinical problems that may have resulted from disturbing life events in childhood, adolescence or adulthood.
These include anxiety, phobias, depression, traumatic grief and addictions.

How many EMDR sessions will I need?

The number of required EMDR sessions can vary, depending on the nature and complexity of a person’s situation. Some traumatic memories are completely resolved after just 2-3 sessions, whereas others may require 10 or more sessions. For more complex issues (such as persistent trauma and abuse in early life), EMDR may be used in conjunction with other therapeutic approaches over a longer period of time.

This great animation by the EMDR Association of Australia explains EMDR Therapy in under 3 mins.

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