BERT STEMARTE – EMDR AT THE PHC
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and is a therapeutic approach that has been extensively researched and proven to be effective in the treatment of trauma. More recently however, EMDR has been found to be a beneficial tool in addressing issues as diverse as stress, anxiety, phobias, panic attacks, and pain disorders.
Like any good therapeutic approach, EMDR is a collaborative process, that is, the therapist works with the client ensuring the client takes a full and active part in their own recovery.
EMDR was discovered by Dr Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s quite by accident, when she was walking through a park and noticed that while her eyes were moving from the trees to the left and right, the negative emotions she had been experiencing at the time began to subside. She wondered if this was coincidental and embarked on a series of tests and experiments to understand what was happening.
She has said that if she were to name the therapy now she would simply call it Reprocessing Therapy because the left / right eye movements were just one way to stimulate the brain bilaterally which is at the centre of the efficacy of the therapy.
EMDR is based on Shapiro’s Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model. This is based on her proposal that we process numerous ‘elements’ of our experiences such as the visual representation, the feelings attached to these experiences, the thoughts and so on. Neural pathways will link these elements as a whole in the brain. Traumatic experiences tend to be maladapted or fragmented or, put yet another way, stored incorrectly causing sufferers to sometimes experience memories as if they are happening for the first time. EMDR uses bilateral stimulation e.g. both hemispheres of the brain are stimulated using eye movements or increasingly with tactile or acoustic stimulation of the body such as tapping on the palms of the hands or the utilisation of specially prepared music accessed via headphones.
EMDR seems to directly influence the way that the brain functions. It helps to restore normal ways of dealing with problems. Following successful EMDR treatment, memories of such events are no longer painful when brought to mind. What happened can still be recalled, but it is no longer upsetting. EMDR appears to mimic what the brain does naturally during dreaming or REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.
EMDR can be thought of as an inherently natural therapy. It is humanistic in its approach. EMDR therapists help clients reprocess their traumatic memories by using a process that involves repeated left-right (bilateral) stimulation of the brain while noticing different aspects of the traumatic memory. It is believed that the bilateral stimulation of EMDR creates biochemical changes in the brain that aid processing of information. Theorists suggest that the mode of action occurs in the Limbic System, where the Amygdala and Hippocampus are located.
EMDR has helped individuals with issues such as stress and anxiety, phobias, panic attacks, pain disorders and coaching. It is one of the few therapies that is accepted as being able to work simultaneously alongside other therapies.
Some contraindications have been recorded. Some of these are organic brain disorders such as tumours, low motivation levels for therapy (it is humanistic and so needs strong client input), current psychotic symptoms.