What is EMDR therapy?
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a psychotherapeutic modality devised in the 1980s to aid those struggling with the aftermath of traumatic events they have experienced or witnessed. The theory behind EMDR proposes that when confronted with a traumatic experience, our brains are unable to entirely process it, causing detrimental emotions, thoughts, and behaviours. Through EMDR therapy, the brain is able to process these experiences and eventually reduce significantly their negative impacts on a person’s life.
How does EMDR work?
The primary goal of EMDR therapy is to help a person process their traumatic memories in a safe and controlled environment. During an EMDR therapy session, a person is asked to recall a traumatic event while the therapist guides their eye movements or uses other forms of bilateral stimulation, such as taps or sounds. The goal is to help the person gradually reprocess the traumatic memory in a way that reduces the intensity of the associated negative emotions and physical sensations.
The two forms of trauma
One of the unique aspects of EMDR therapy is that it can be used to treat what is referred to as ‘big T’ or ‘large T’ trauma as well as ‘small t’ trauma. Generally, ‘large T’ trauma refers to a major traumatic event that is typically associated with PTSD, such as sexual assault or combat trauma. Small T trauma, on the other hand, refers to the accumulation of smaller traumas that can have a cumulative effect on a person’s mental health over time. Examples of ‘small t’ traumas can include childhood emotional neglect, bullying, or chronic stress. For people with ‘large T’ trauma, EMDR therapy can help with processing traumatic memories in a safe and controlled environment. For people with small T trauma, EMDR therapy can help identify and reduce the cumulative impact of past negative experiences.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, sexual assault, or military combat. PTSD can cause a range of symptoms, including flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and depression. It is diagnosed according to several core criteria, the most well-known of which is the tendency of a traumatic event to repeat or replay for a person (whether it has been ‘triggered’ by outside stimuli or not). If a person does not register on one of the required criteria, their post-traumatic stress is considered subclinical (or ‘small t’ trauma) although it is still very real.
EMDR was originally developed specifically for treatment of PTSD, and research has demonstrated it is an effective tool in alleviating symptoms of clinical and subclinical PTSD. These symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, re-experiencing and re-triggering, as well as avoidance behaviours.
The EMDR treatment process
The process of EMDR treatment is gradual and may necessitate multiple sessions for optimal results. Not everyone is suited for this kind of therapy, and each person’s situation is unique, so it is necessary for an EMDR therapist to assess a person’s eligibility before treatment is administered.
If you or someone you know has experienced a traumatic event of any sort and are having difficulty managing negative emotions or behaviours resulting from it, EMDR therapy may help.
Get in touch to learn more
To learn more about EMDR therapy or to schedule an appointment, please don’t hesitate to contact Stephen for further discussion.