Processing Traumatic Experiences with EMDR Therapy

EMDR Therapy


What is EMDR Therapy?


Overview: 

EMDR Therapy is a very unique and powerful approach to resolving painful memories and negative beliefs that was originally developed over 30 years ago for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), following significant traumatic events.

We know from decades of extensive research that EMDR Therapy has far-reaching applications beyond large or obvious traumas (e.g. life threatening traumas). EMDR Therapy is very useful to consider whenever memories are causing us significant disturbance and/or a negative view of ourselves.

Fast Facts:

  • EMDR Therapy was developed over 30 years ago by psychologist Francine Shapiro, and is now backed by decades of research.
  • In 2013, EMDR Therapy was recognized by the World Health Organization as a first-choice treatment for trauma.
  • In 2018, the Australian Psychological Society included EMDR therapy as a Level I evidence-based psychological intervention for posttraumatic stress disorder in adults.
  • In 2020 EMDR Therapy was included by Australia’s Medicare system as being the only one of two other therapies deemed an ‘acceptable strategy’. (This important because, this is the first time any therapy has ever been added to this list by Medicare in the 10+ years the Better Access Scheme has been running).

Why Choose EMDR Therapy?

Trauma & Adverse Experiences

The formal diagnostic criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) lists large, obvious traumatic events that are typically life-threatening. These are commonly referred to as ‘Big T’ traumas (large, obvious, life-threatening experiences).

However, many people are also affected by adversities that do not meet any formal diagnostic criteria. These experiences include non-life-threatening injuries, such as betrayal, the loss of a significant relationship, Attachment wounds, emotional abuse (gas lighting, bullying or harassment), and any other experience that can result in extreme humiliation/shame, fear, or a loss of control or feelings of insignificance. These experiences are commonly referred to as “little ‘t’ traumas”.

Although ‘little t’ traumas are not acknowledged by the formal Diagnostic Criteria for PTSD, these painful experiences can also have a significant, long-lasting negative impact on how our brains function and how we act and feel about ourselves (and others). Untreated trauma can have a huge and long-lasting impact that can leave us vulnerable to present day and future triggers.

Irrespective of the distinction between ‘Big T’ and ‘little t’ traumas, we know that the risk of developing mental and physical health problems increases with the number of traumatic events we have experienced.

In children, we now know that the cumulative effects of unresolved adverse childhood experiences and painful attachment experiences can have a negative impact on general brain development. This can affect a child’s emotional and cognitive development and can negatively impact on resilience (i.e., our ability to handle stress, to regulate our emotions, and to bounce back from significant setbacks).

In addition to the emotional and physical effects, the long-term cumulative effects of unresolved traumas can trigger a complex reorganization of the brain and body that can make us more prone to serious mental health and medical complications.

This partly explains why two adults who are both exposed to the same traumatic event may handle it very differently. One person may ‘bounce back’ and ultimately be unaffected in the longer-term, whereas for the other person (if they have a history of many unresolved traumas), the event can be experienced as debilitating and can affect them for years to come.

Thankfully (as will be discussed) with EMDR Therapy it need not be this way.

Resolve the Memory, Resolve the Problem

EMDR Therapy views all emotional, psychological, and behavioural problems as being related to ‘stuck’ (unprocessed) memories. It follows that by identifying and processing these memories safely, a person’s emotional, psychological and behavioural problems will also resolve. In fact – this is exactly what happens following EMDR Therapy (!).

  • EMDR Therapy has been extensively researched and validated as a very effective approach for both “Big T” (life threatening) and “little t” (non-life-threatening) traumatic experiences.
  • There is also strong research support that EMDR Therapy is useful for a wide range of behavioural and psychological difficulties including: Depressive disorders, all forms of Anxiety (Panic, Phobias, Social Anxiety, PTSD, OCD etc), Addictive and Compulsive behaviours, Eating Disorders, Chronic Pain, and Complex Trauma (c-PTSD).
  • EMDR Therapy is also useful to for non-diagnostic difficulties, such as attachment-related wounds, intense shame and self-criticism (which is often related to having a painful attachment history).
  • There is also emerging research demonstrating that EMDR Therapy is effective with helping people manage Chronic Pain and also medically-unexplainable physical sensations (also known as ‘somatoform disorders’).

Benefits: It is fast, and it works!

Although we cannot erase a memory, we now know from over 30 years of research that memory processing done via EMDR Therapy results in a complete elimination of the disturbance associated with the memory. Moreover, we know that with this change, comes positive associations (positive, adaptive self-beliefs). In addition, these changes become the new normal – a new foundation that all new learning and subsequent experiences are encoded.

Unlike most talking therapies, the processing of memories via EMDR Therapy involves very little talking. Early on, the therapy involves taking a history, and also determining your window of tolerance (for your safety).

Preparation for memory processing involves teaching you the skills you need to stay within your window of tolerance (this may take several sessions depending on your needs). Following this, you will be well resourced for the memory processing phase of treatment (which often can happen very quickly – in as little as a single session).

Your therapist will then develop with you an EMDR Treatment Plan, which identifies patterns and orders your past experiences related to different themes in terms of Past Events (Memories related to that theme), Present Triggers (i.e., “Every Time ‘X’ happens, I still get triggered”), and Future Templates (What you ultimately would like to achieve as a result of processing memories within that Theme – how you would like to be able to respond to the Present Triggers). This process will help you and your therapist identify which experiences most significantly relate to the Theme in question, and which memories you will likely need to Target.

With EMDR Therapy, you get to decide which Theme you would like to work on and which memories you would like to Target and resolve. You may choose to start to work on processing the earliest memories, the most disturbing memories, or a recent memory / trigger.

Memory processing involves recalling certain features of the target experience and noticing with your therapist: what you feel in your body, what emotions you may be experiencing, and any beliefs about yourself that you may have. This happens in the presence of 10-20 seconds of bi-lateral stimulation provided by your therapist (which most commonly takes the form of eye-movements, but it can also include tapping, or auditory bi-lateral stimulation).

Overall, there is very little talking that occurs. Your therapist will periodically check in with you to ensure that you are on track to resolve the memory (taking cues from the things that you report that you are ‘noticing’ after each set of bi-lateral stimulation).

We know that the processing of a memory is complete when bringing up the original image actually no longer disturbs you. Instead, you will feel calm and will have new positive associations / beliefs about yourself. People are often very surprised to find that this can happen in as little as 1-2 sessions, even for very old and painful memories

How EMDR Therapy Works:

Painful experiences & stuck memories 

When we experience a painful event, it can often become ‘stuck’ in our mind in the form of a painful unprocessed memory (which may have imagery, sounds, smells, emotions, bodily sensations and/or beliefs associated with it). Depending on the severity of the painful event, these memories may not resolve on their own. We know this has happened whenever the memory of an event still causes us disturbance, or when we are triggered by present-day experiences that may be somewhat similar (even) many years beyond the original event. This pain and vulnerability is precisely what EMDR Therapy can you to resolve. How?

Normally, events from each day are processed by our hippocampus (short-term memory storage) and integrated into to our cortex (where longer-term links are made) during sleep. However, the content from disturbing memories is ‘stuck’ and becomes held in a raw or unprocessed state in the limbic system (which is essentially our Threat System). This keeps the distressing elements of the memories ‘alive’.  When a new experience triggers any of the related elements of the memory, the event may feel like it is happening again, NOW. This can become very debilitating.

During a memory-processing session (which does not happen without a thorough assessment and skills building, which may take several sessions), a client is asked to recall specific components of the problem memory as directed by their therapist – this may include its image, the negative self-belief, and/or the disturbing emotions and associated body sensations.  This happens while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation (i.e., stimulation involving both sides of the body) such as left-to-right eye movements (or bi-lateral sounds, flashing lights, or ‘tapping’). Eye movements are the most common bilateral stimulation used and these are believed to mimic the eye movements of REM sleep (the stage of sleep responsible for memory processing and learning). These eye-movements may be repeated quickly, in sets of 20-30 (several times), until processing has completed.

In this way, the EMDR Therapist takes each of the stuck components of an unprocessed memory (described above) and uses the bilateral stimulation to help the brain store this information in new ways. In doing so, the information from the memory is transferred from the limbic (threat) system, to the pre-frontal cortex where a person can make better sense of what has happened. This leaves a person feeling resolved (vs ‘stuck’) about the corresponding memory and its components.

Although we cannot get rid of a memory, it is possible to remove the distress and disturbance that was once associated with this memory. We know that processing is complete because we find that the original memory no longer causes any disturbance. In other words, after processing a memory using EMDR Therapy, bringing up this memory or its components will still be possible, but doing so will no longer bother you anymore (processed memories become resolved).

For example, a painful experience may still be ‘awful’ or ‘sad’, but after EMDR Therapy, bringing up the memory that you have about this event will no longer cause you any disturbance. Instead, you will feel calm and will have new positive associations / beliefs about yourself.

People are often very surprised to find that this can happen in as little as 1-2 sessions, even for very old and painful memories  

Before EMDR Therapy:

Memories that are ‘stuck’ cause us pain, pull us into the past, and carry a negative self-referencing belief. We are vulnerable to being easily triggered by present events, because all experiences are vulnerable to being viewed through the lens of the unprocessed memory.

After EMDR Therapy:

The original memory no longer haunt us, we are free to choose to recall the painful event and doing so does not disturb us. We feel resolved about a previously negative situation (it happened, it is in the past, I am SAFE now), and the memory of it does not affect our view of ourselves. This also means that things that used to trigger us no longer do – we become free to choose how we want to respond, and in doing so we can go on to have new experiences which strengthen the memory processing done in EMDR. This then becomes an adaptive lens through which all new events are viewed.

Before and after EMDR Therapy

Processing Memories in EMDR Therapy

Bi-Lateral Stimulation & REM Sleep

Bi-lateral stimulation is unique aspect of EMDR Therapy. This is believed to relate to how the brain processes memories whilst we are a sleep.

One of the most important stages of sleep in terms of learning and memory is called ‘rapid eye movement’ (REM) Sleep. REM sleep is where we consolidate learning and memories from the previous day. A key component of REM sleep is bi-lateral eye movements (our eyes flicker left-to-right). You may have seen someone’s eyes doing this when they are sleeping – chances are that they were in REM sleep and were processing memories.

Therefore, EMDR Therapy makes use of this process by mimicking the eye-movements of REM sleep to stimulate the brain’s natural way of storing memories. This can be done by using bi-lateral stimulation (i.e., using both sides of the body) such as left-to-right eye movements (or sounds, flashing lights, or ‘tapping’).

Interestingly, regarding sleep – we know that people who do not sleep well do not learn well. For example, studies investigating the benefit of sleep for learning a new task have found that people who learn a complex task before bedtime do better in the morning than participants who were taught the same task in the morning but were tested in the afternoon. Studies deliberately interfering with REM sleep (using alcohol – a substance known to interfere with REM sleep) have also demonstrated that a disturbance to REM sleep directly affects memory consolidation and learning.

Clearly, sleep is important for learning and memory. We know that people do not experience good quality sleep when they are distressed. Distressing dreams are common to people who have experienced significant stress or trauma. We also know that REM sleep is important for storing memories and processing emotions. When REM sleep is disturbed, emotional distress may accumulate. People who have experienced trauma or significant emotional distress often report that they are haunted by persistent and intrusive imagery, thoughts, and memories (e.g., rumination, intrusive thoughts, and flashbacks). As previously discussed, many of these are in fact components of unprocessed memories. This indicates a relationship between unprocessed memories and poor REM sleep.

Again, EMDR Therapy identifies a stuck memory (and its components) and carefully stimulates this information, while pairing it with the bilateral eye movements observed in REM sleep. This in turn allows the brain to process the memory. By mimicking the eye-movements of REM sleep, or by using other forms of bi-lateral stimulation (i.e., using both sides of the body) such as sounds, flashing lights, or ‘tapping’, EMDR Therapy facilitates the brain’s natural way of processing a memory that was previously ‘stuck’. This results in an elimination of distress associated with the memory – and with this, comes a resolution of the related emotional, psychological and behavioural problems people were originally experiencing!

EMDR Therapy

Getting past your past – What is the Catch ?

Less Talking…

EMDR Therapy is very different to all other talking therapies. During the memory-processing phase, talking is kept to a minimum. In fact, while a memory is being processed using the bi-lateral stimulation (e.g., left-to-right eye-movements) very little talking occurs at all (!).

The only talking that does occur is simply for the sake of a brief check-in, so that the therapist can check in with you to ensure that you are still processing the memory.

For example:

Therapist: “OK – take a breath. What do you notice?”

Client: “I feel something in my chest and shoulders”

Therapist: “Ok – Notice that…” (Bi-lateral stimulation continues until memory is processed…)

Notice that in the above example, unlike typical ‘talk’ therapies, in EMDR Therapy the therapist does not ask the client about what their sensation might relate to, what their sensation ‘might’ mean, or why they think they are experiencing their sensation.

Instead, there therapist is simply checking to make sure that memory processing is still occurring.

This is very different to regular talking therapy.

Worse Before Better

Sometimes during the processing of a painful memory, your distress may increase. This is normal – and it is OK if you have the skills to calm, ground, and soothe yourself, so that processing can continue. Without calming, grounding and soothing skills, processing a painful memory could become very difficult. If you have not done this necessary preparation work with your therapist, you may find this very emotionally challenging.

Often, therapists who are overly eager to get to processing memories with their clients may rush through this preparation stage. However, processing a memory without adequate preparation is insensitive to you and your needs, and this could become unsafe for you – it could even make things worse.

Although this preparation work may take several sessions, it is important to do this thoroughly.  Preparation will typically involve exploring your Window of Tolerance and your triggers, and teaching you numerous ways to calm, ground and soothe yourself (for example, by using soothing breathing, mindfulness, and calming imagery). These skills are also helpful to use in-between therapy sessions – even if you are not yet at the memory processing stage of EMDR Therapy.

Without this preparation work – I do not recommend processing memories via EMDR Therapy. If you are reading this and your therapist has not prepared you for memory processing, please give them the following article to read: Understanding your Window of Tolerance.

It Can Work Fast, but….

Processing a memory can happen very quickly. Often, a painful memory can be processed in a single session. YES – a single session (!).  Although this may sound impossible, it is actually quite commonplace (remember, EMDR Therapy is supported by over 30 years of research). However, there are some important considerations to be aware of:

Although EMDR Therapy can produce results very quickly, it can take time (several sessions) to set things up before you are ready to process memories. This set-up (known as the Stabilization Phase) is necessary to make it safe for both you and the therapist. In essence, in the Stabilization Phase is focused on helping you to manage your symptoms to a level where you are able to tolerate bringing up the memories that are affecting you. After all, the last thing anyone wants is to create further negative associations with painful memories.

Also note: For more complex issues, there may be a network of multiple related memories that need to be processed before a full relief from disturbance is achieved. This is often the case with complex trauma (for instance).

Essentially, preparation for memory processing involves numerous steps: Taking a History, mapping out how your memories cluster into themes, determining your Present Triggers and Future Goals, establishing your Window of Tolerance*, and building skills so that you can handle any difficult emotions that may show up as when you bring up the memories that are affecting you.

*Click here to read more about your Window of Tolerance.

Common Questions:

Do I have to process every memory I’ve ever experienced ?

Thankfully NO, because this would take a long time. Due to what is known as the ‘Generalization Effect’, often processing an event or memory may also help reduce the disturbance you experience in response to similar memories.

The Generalisation Effect works in the following way – imagine you were going to cut back a huge, thorny rose bush: You could start at the most recent flower and trim the bush backwards to the most recent leaf, then work backwards to the nearest branch (etc…). Alternatively, you could start much lower down, and with one or two ‘snips’ you could remove large sections of the bush because everything stems from the earlier, more established branches. On the other hand, if you wanted to remove the entire bush, you could do so by going directly to the oldest part of the bush (the trunk). However, the thorns from the branches may make that difficult, so (luckily) you have the above options.

Because of the Generalisation Effect, processing memories with EMDR Therapy is similar to the above Rose bush metaphor – you could start at the most recent memory, the earliest memory, or the most painful memory. There are pros / cons to each. However, most of the time, resolving an earlier memory has the biggest flow on effect for all subsequent memories. It is like trimming the rose bush low down at its trunk (all other branches will thus be affected).

Determining where to start is up to you. However, before memory processing can begin, an important phase of treatment involves working with your therapist to formulate a Treatment Plan. This is often written up into a table, which clusters the memories that disturb you and bought you to EMDR Therapy, into ‘Themes’.

The EMDR Treatment Plan orders your experiences related to each Theme in terms of Past Events (Memories related to that theme), Present Triggers (i.e., “Every Time ‘X’ happens, I get triggered”), and Future Templates (What you ultimately would like to achieve as a result of processing memories within that Theme – how you would like to be able to respond to the Present Triggers). This process will help you and your therapist identify which experiences most significantly relate to the Theme in question, and which memories you will likely need to Target.

With EMDR Therapy, you get to decide which Theme you would like to work on and which memories you would like to Target. You may choose to start to work on processing the earliest memory, the most disturbing memory, or a recent memory / trigger. Your therapist can assist you to learn skills to help support you through the memory processing safely, so that you can remain within your Window of Tolerance whilst processing a memory / experience.

Thanks to the Generalisation Effect, you do not need to process every experience or memory related to that theme that you have ever had.

What if I Can’t Remember the Past?

There are many reasons why we have ‘foggy’, incomplete, or even very little recollection of the past. Sometimes people ‘know’ that an event happened, but they cannot remember the experience. Other times, people report that there is no specific event that they can remember, because the same painful experience happened over, and over again (or happened many times throughout long periods of their development).

However, with EMDR Therapy, it is not necessarily important that you cannot remember the specifics of an event.

Why? Because EMDR Therapy works around how a memory is encoded (stored).  In many ways, you can even create a scene in your mind that captures an event or a period of your life, and your therapist can work with you to extract the significant material within that scene that you have created. Just as a memory has specific components, a scene that you have created in your mind will also have these components. Any of the components in this scene can be used as a Target for memory processing.

Is EMDR hypnosis?

No – In hypnosis, you are guided by a therapist to enter an altered, trance-like ‘hypnotic state’, which is thought to bypass the conscious, analytical mind. This is thought to make a person more open to accepting positive suggestions. Therefore, in Hypnosis, you are encouraged to act or feel differently by the therapist’s ‘use of positive suggestion’ about a pre-determined goal or behaviour.

In contrast, the tasks of EMDR Therapy are driven by what we know about how memories are perceived, stored and retrieved. In an EMDR session, a person does not go into a trance-like state of consciousness, because this would actually be counter-productive to processing a memory. This is why steps are taken by the EMDR Therapist to pre-determine your Window of Tolerance (because memory processing cannot happen if you are not mentally ‘present’).

Therefore, in EMDR, active attempts are made towards repeatedly grounding a person in the present moment, by asking them to remain highly focused on specific things (like eye-movements, physical tapping or other forms of bilateral stimulation), while checking-in with their current feelings and body sensations. In EMDR, the therapist is deliberately doing this to prevent you from drifting away from reality, because memories cannot be processed if you are not consciously present.

In EMDR Therapy, we are working with your memories until you have processed them, and you remain in control at all times.

Will EMDR Erase My Memory?

No – EMDR Therapy cannot not get rid of a memory. EMDR Therapy also cannot change that fact that past negative experiences happened to you.

However, EMDR Therapy will change how you feel when you bring a past event or memory to mind. EMDR Therapy specifically targets the components of stuck memories, so that they are moved from your limbic system to your pre-frontal cortex where a person can make better sense of what happened. This then allows adaptive learning and new (positive) information to be integrated.  This leaves a person feeling resolved (vs ‘stuck’) about the corresponding memory and its components.

In other words, after processing a memory with EMDR Therapy, you will still have access to the memory, but it will not cause you any disturbance.

When bringing the memory to mind, you will feel calmer and you will have a more adaptive response to yourself, which may take the form of positive beliefs about yourself, greater self-acceptance, and / or more confidence and self-compassion.

You will still be able to retrieve the memory, but it will not disturb or bother you any longer.

Can I do EMDR myself (or to someone else)?

NO – A common question clients have is whether they can simply “move their eyes left-to-right” while thinking of a painful memory and process that memory themselves. This is not advised (and is potentially unsafe) for several reasons:

Firstly, an EMDR Therapist must undergo a minimum of 50 hours training comprising of: 20 hours of didactic training, 20 hours of skills training and 10 hours of consultation with an EMDRAA Accredited Consultant. Part of this training encompasses understanding the numerous components of an unprocessed memory and how they interact (images, sounds, smells, bodily sensations and negative views of Self), what decisions to make whilst processing memories (EMDR Therapists do not just ask you to move your eyes back and forward – at each stage of processing, they are actually looking for specific cues from you that the individual components of the memory are being successfully processed, before they move onto the next memory component), and how to determine that a memory has indeed been successfully (and safely) processed.

As you can see, each of these components is complex and cannot be executed by one’s self, on one’s self. Similarly, before memory processing can commence, an extensive history must be taken by the therapist to determine the themes, patterns, and cautions that need to be kept in mind when doing memory processing. These skills require professional objectivity, extensive university training, and clinical experience. You cannot do these things yourself.

Secondly, it is not possible to take one’s self through the steps of memory processing because they are so complex that it would not be possible to fully stay ‘in a memory’ whilst self-monitoring. This means you cannot be processing a memory AND be consciously maintaining awareness of (and fidelity to) the EMDR Treatment Protocol (the decision-making steps based on responses made after each set of eye-movements). In other words, even if you knew what the steps were to processing a memory, you would not actually be sufficiently ‘present’ and engaged in your memory – if you were simultaneously mentally taking yourself through these steps – to derive any benefit from doing any EMDR to yourself. EMDR Therapy may appear simple, but unfortunately, it is not something you can do, yourself.

Third, often processing a memory may bring you to the edge of your Window of Tolerance. An EMDR Therapist is trained to help you recognise the cues that this may be happening, and is trained to work with you to ensure that you can keep processing memories, safely. This is not possible (and may be harmful) if you try to perform EMDR with yourself (or anyone else). You may even cause a negative emotional reaction that you cannot manage, and this could put you (or another person) at risk of re-traumatization, dissociation, or self-harm. If this happens, chances are that is not something that you have skills or training to manage.

Think about it this way – Therapists who know how to do EMDR Therapy very well STILL go and seek the help of an EMDR therapist when they have memories that need to be processed. So, what does that tell you?

Telehealth

Does EMDR Therapy work Online (via Telehealth) ?

YES – it does, and we can say this with a high degree of confidence. In fact, below is a list of peer-reviewed research publications attesting to the effectiveness of EMDR Therapy delivered online. Recommendations for online EMDR Therapy are simply that a) you use a device that is hands-free that b) has a screen large enough for your eyes to move left-to-right when you follow the visual stimulus (a requirement for bi-lateral processing in EMDR Therapy). Also, it may go without saying, but for memory processing sessions via Telehealth you will need to location that is quiet and private (where you will not be disturbed by people, pets, or alerts from any devices).

Bates, A., Rushbrook, S., Shapiro, E., Grocott, M., & Cusack, R. (2020). CovEMERALD: Assessing the feasibility and preliminary effectiveness of remotely delivered eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing following Covid-19 related critical illness: A structured summary of a study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. BioMedCentral, 21: 929. Open Access: https://doi.org/10.1186/s13063-020-04805-1

Bongaerts, H. Voorendonk, E. M., van Minnen, A., & de Jongh, A. (2021). Safety and effectiveness of intensive treatment for complex PTSD delivered via home-based telehealth. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 12(1), 1860346. Open access: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2020.1860346

Fisher, N. (2021). Using EMDR therapy to treat clients remotely. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 15(1), 73-84.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/EMDR-D-20-00041

Lenferink, L. I. M., Meyerbroker, K., & Boelen, P. A. (2020). PTSD treatment in times of COVID-19: A systematic review of the effects of online EMDR. Psychiatry Research, 293:113438. Open access: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113438

Marotta-Walters, S.A., Jain, K., DeNardo, J., Kaur, P., & Kaligounder, S. (2018). A review of mobile applications for facilitating EMDR treatment of complex trauma and its comordities. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 12(1), 2-15. Open access: http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/1933-3196.12.1.2

Maxfield, L. (2021). Low-intensity interventions and EMDR therapy. Journal of EMDR Practice & Research, 15(2). Early View. http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/EMDR-D-21-00009

Moench, J., & Billsten, O. (2021). Randomized controlled trial: Self-care traumatic episode protocol (STEP), computerized EMDR treatment of COVID-19 related stress. Journal of EMDR Practice & Research, 15(2). Early View. http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/EMDR-D-20-00047

Perri, R. L., Castelli, P., La Rosa, C., Zucchi, T., & Onofri, A. (2021). COVID-19, isolation, quarantine: on the efficacy of internet-based eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for ongoing trauma. Brain Sciences, 11(5), 579. Open access: https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci11050579

Perez, M. C., Estevez, M. E., Becker, Y., Osorio, A., Jarero, I., & Givaudan, M. (2020). Multisite randomized controlled trial on the provision of the EMDR integrative group treatment protocol for ongoing traumatic stress remote to healthcare professionals working in hospitals during the Covid-19 pandemic. Psychology and Behavioral Science, 15(4), 555920. DOI: 10.19080/PBSIJ.2020.15.555920. Retrieved 10/30/2020 from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344932427_Multisite_Randomized_Controlled_Trial_on_the_Provision_of_the_EMDR_Integrative_Group_Treatment_Protocol_for_Ongoing_Traumatic_Stress_Remote_to_Healthcare_Professionals_Working_in_Hospitals_During_the_ 

Spence, J., Titov, N., Johnson, L., Dear, B. F., Wootton, B., Terides, M., & Zou, J. (2013). Internet-delivered eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (iEMDR): An open trial [version 2; peer review: 2 approved]. F1000Research, 2:79. Open access: https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.2-79.v2

Tarquinio, C., Brennstuhl, M., Rydberg, J. A., Bassan, F., Peter, L., Tarquinio, C. L., & . . . Tarquinio, P. (2020). EMDR in telemental health counseling for healthcare workers caring for COVID-19 patients: A pilot study. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, published online. Open access: https://doi.org/10.1080/01612840.2020.1818014

Todder, D., & Kaplan, Z. (2007). Rapid eye movements for acute stress disorder using video conference communication. Telemedicine and e-Health, (13)4, 461-464. http://doi.org/10.1089/tmj.2006.0058

If you have further questions about EMDR Therapy, please contact me below, or visit the EMDR Institute (external website): https://www.emdr.com/frequent-questions/

Summary

  • EMDR Therapy is a very unique and powerful approach to resolving painful memories that was originally developed to treat trauma, over 30 years ago
  • EMDR Therapy has far-reaching applications beyond large or obvious traumas and is essentially useful to consider whenever memories are causing an individual significant disturbance and/or a negative view of themselves.
  • Present day Triggers exist because of unprocessed memories from our past.
  • Early painful attachment experiences and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are examples of developmental experiences that may leave a lingering effect on an individual, and these may be useful to work on using EMDR Therapy.
  • In EMDR Therapy, the therapist takes each of the stuck components of an unprocessed memory and uses the bilateral stimulation to help the brain store this information in new ways. In doing so, the information from the memory is transferred from the limbic system to the pre-frontal cortex where a person can make better sense of what has happened. This leaves a person feeling resolved (vs ‘stuck’) about the corresponding memory and its components.
  • Preparation involves: Taking a History, determining your Present Triggers and Future Goals, mapping your memories into themes, establishing your Window of Tolerance, and building skills so that you can handle any difficult emotions that may show up as when you bring up the memories that are affecting you.
  • During a memory-processing session, a client is asked to recall specific components of the problem memory as directed by their therapist – this may include its image, the negative self-belief, and/or the disturbing emotions and associated body sensations. This happens while simultaneously engaging in bilateral stimulation (i.e., stimulation involving both sides of the body) such as left-to-right eye movements (or bi-lateral sounds, flashing lights, or ‘tapping’).
  • Eye movements are the most common bilateral stimulation used and these are believed to mimic the eye movements of REM sleep (the stage of sleep responsible for memory processing and learning).
  • These eye-movements may be repeated quickly, in sets of 20-30 (several times), until processing has completed.
  • EMDR Therapy is very different to regular ‘talking therapy’ – During processing a memory, there is very little talking (other than a brief ‘check in’) in between the bilateral stimulation
  • Processing a memory can happen very quickly (in as little as a single session)
  • Due to the Generalisation Effect, you do not need to process every single memory – processing one event or memory may also help reduce the disturbance you experience in response to similar memories.
  • EMDR Therapy requires extensive supervised training for client safety. Therefore, you should not attempt to perform EMDR (on yourself or anyone else) because it could become highly unsafe.

Further Resources: