Since Prince Harry opened up about his experience with trauma and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (known as EMDR), the interest in this approach rose significantly. EMDR is an evidence based therapeutic approach that has been recommended by National Institute for Health & Care Excellence (NICE) (see 1.6.18) for the treatment of PTSD. However, most trauma therapist are aware that in modern trauma therapy one size never fits all. That’s why EMDR therapists need to be first and foremost fully qualified and accredited psychotherapist, before they can embark on an EMDR training.
EMDR isn’t a quick fix unfortunately, even though it can cut down therapy length significantly. I often give the example of an accident. If you grew up in a loving home with fairly good parenting, processing a single event trauma like an accident can be fast. Within a couple of preparation sessions and a couple of processing sessions the accident can be integrated in your system. The reality is, clients often come to therapy because there is a feeling that something isn’t quite right but it’s unclear where its coming from. Or there is a sense of being pulled apart by conflicting needs accompanied by feelings of embarrassment, shame, guilt, sadness and so on.
To understand these conflicting needs and emotions, I draw from Internal Family Systems (IFS) which has a growing evidence base in treatment of trauma, that isn’t straight forward like an accident. IFS has been by far from my clinical experience the most effective approach to reduce stress levels in early stages of therapy and throughout treatment.
What does EMDR & IFS therapy look like?
The first few sessions are for us both to get to know each other and are completely commitment free. During early stages of therapy, stress levels can feel high. That’s why it’s important to manage the stress at the beginning. IFS offers a straight forward systems and parts theory, that allows clients to make sense of inner conflicts relatively quickly. Imagine our minds being a bit like a car engine. There are various parts working at the same time to get the car going. Understanding that parts have different needs and roles which might be conflicting (or in IFS language: are polarised), can help reduce stress fairly quickly. After all, parts operate from a belief to help.
After a thorough assessment of the roots where your stress might originate from, we will decide whether EMDR is appropriate to include in your treatment strategy.
EMDR utilises the natural healing ability of your body. We will recreate Eye movements, similar to those during REM sleep, by following a visual stimulus in front of your visual field. This is administered either through on screen software if we work remotely, or a light bar if we work face to face. The eye movements will last for 30 – 60 seconds. You will then be asked to report back on the experiences you have had. Experiences during a session may include changes in thoughts, images and feelings. With repeated sets of eye movements, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory of an event in the past. Other associated memories may also heal at the same time. This linking of related memories can lead to a dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of your life.
How long does treatment take?
EMDR can be brief focused treatment (6-8 sessions) or part of a longer psychotherapy programme (open ended). Sessions last 50 to 90 minutes.