Like a lot of scientific breakthroughs, serendipity is behind the origin of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). In 1989, an American psychologist, Francine Shapiro, while walking through the woods one day realised that her own negative emotions lessened as her eyes darted from side to side. She developed this technique, and when she tried it on her clients, she found it to be efficacious.
Though it is a relatively new and non-traditional form of psychotherapy, it has been especially helpful in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which is often associated with vehicular accidents, physical assault and military combat.
It is recognised as an effective treatment modality by the American Psychiatric Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs/Dept. of Defense, The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and the World Health Organization.
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What Is EMDR?
This therapy is based on the client’s rapid and rhythmic eye movements to reduce psychological stress and decrease the impact of emotionally charged memories of past traumatic events.
The eye movements divert the clients’ attention. This helps the recall of events a less traumatising experience. With every session, the psychological response is successively dulled until eventually, they can deal with it.
Does It Work?
Various studies done over the years have helped establish its efficacy. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that EMDR is effective for treating symptoms of acute and chronic PTSD.
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense have jointly issued clinical practise guidelines that “strongly recommended” EMDR for the treatment of PTSD in both military and non-military populations. Other reputed professional organisations have also endorsed EMDR, making it a credible treatment option.
How Does It Work?
According to some Pscyotherpist theories have been propounded about how it works, and though there is no definitive mechanism, it has been known to help in reducing anxiety and equips the clients to take better control of their upsetting thoughts. Those who have experienced it describe it as intensely cathartic, emotionally draining, challenging, yet relieving and empowering.
In Which Conditions Does EMDR Work?
What To Expect From EMDR?
It is a phased therapy with multiple sessions, each lasting up to 60 minutes. Though one cannot expect to see its effects overnight, it is still a short-term treatment as compared to other options.
– Phase 1
involves a history review and evaluation to assess if the client is a good candidate for EMDR.
– Phase 2
is the preparation stage, where the therapist helps the client with techniques like deep breathing and mindfulness to cope with emotional or psychological stress.
– Phase 3
is when the therapist tries to identify the specific memories that will be targeted.
– Phase 4 – 7
is the actual treatment phase when the client is asked to focus on a negative thought, memory, or image, and the therapist guides him/her through specific eye movements. The client experiences the emotions and certain body sensations as well. The bilateral stimulation may also include taps or other movements according to the case at hand. Some therapists use hand or toe-tapping or musical tones.
The client is asked to concentrate on those thoughts, and once identified, they move to the next memory. During this time if the client experiences stress, the therapist recalls the client to the present. With time and over sessions, these memories are expected to fade away.
– Phase 8
involves an evaluation of progress made, which is done both by the client and the therapist. Before and after each EMDR treatment, the therapist asks the client to rate the distress level that eventually helps in measuring the efficacy of the treatment.
Advantage Of EMDR
– Those who choose EMDR can expect to avoid medications that are often long term and also have side effects.
– It is often seen that the client is unable to place trust in the therapist right at the start, which is natural. EMDR works even in these situations.
– If the client is uncomfortable with talking, EMDR works in favour because it does not involve too much talking.
Are There Any Side Effects Of EMDR Therapy?
EMDR therapy is quite safe, especially because it avoids the use of prescription medications.
The client may experience light-headedness and a sense of heightened awareness immediately after the session, and some also report of having vivid, realistic dreams when the therapy is on. Some might find it triggering to deal with trauma in the initial sessions, but the therapy is known to have a positive outcome in the long run.
The therapists are aware of these situations, and they assist in helping the client deal with these symptoms.
EMDR therapy has proven efficacy in treating PTSD related trauma and also conditions like anxiety, depression, and panic disorders.
Since this modality doesn’t involve prescription medications, it is often preferred by those who may want to avoid the side effects related to these medications. Some are also known to try the therapy in conjunction with medication for synergistic results.
Ensure that EMDR therapy is administered by certified, licensed therapists as they have undergone rigorous training and possess the requisite experience in EMDR. The certification process requires many hours of supervision, training, and delivery of EMDR. Only a therapist with the required knowledge and skill can be trusted to help in the healing process from the difficult and traumatic experiences in one’s life.
Dr. Shivani Salil Shinde is an MD in Clinical Microbiology from Seth GSMC & KEM Hospital, Mumbai where she later also worked as an Assistant Professor for almost ten years. She moonlights as a content writer and assists in creating contents for websites especially those related to health. She also blogs on a broad spectrum of issues, from parenting to health and relationships to philosophy in fiction and non-fiction format, across various platforms like Momspresso, Women’s Web, Mumbai Psychiatry Clinic, The Daily Brunch and SheThePeople. She has a weekly space on the online portal, The Wonder Women World, called Saturdays With Shivani where she writes about day-to-day observations, experiences and musings hoping that they find their way to the readers.
Her first book Hiraeth got published in August 2019 which is a single author anthology of 24 stories written around partition. It was selected among the Top 100 Debut Novels for the year 2019-20 by Literatureslight & Criticspace Literary Journal. On the occasion of Women’s Day, it was also awarded the Literoma Naari Samman 2020 for literature.
She has just completed a year-long Masters in Fine Arts (Creative Writing) which is a full-time course in Creative Writing from Hong Kong University (Class of 2020).