What is EMDR?
We tend to associate trauma with events which involve soldiers in combat, severe childhood sexual abuse or the victims of terrorist attacks. However, trauma can be defined as anything which overwhelms our ability to cope.
A child whose father looks at her in disgust when she is upset, an adult who is bullied in the workplace, a paramedic who despite their best efforts is unable to save an injured child, a student who has a panic attack in a pub, a mother who witnesses their new-born baby being taken away to an incubator, an elderly widower who witnesses the death of his much-loved dog in a road accident, a child who is shamed in front of their class, – all of these human beings are experiencing trauma.
When someone experiences a traumatic event, it jams the normal ability of the brain to lay down a memory and to “date stamp” it. The trauma becomes frozen in time. Instead of understanding that the event is in the past, the brain experiences it as ever-present. It is like a bit of undigested food that keeps repeating¹ and causing problems. The normal ability of the system to process the event has got stuck.
Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing is an evidence-based psychotherapy which uses eye movements and other methods to free-up the natural processing of the mind. This allows a distressing memory to be digested into a story which makes sense to us. Instead of one emotionally charged bit of jigsaw puzzle which haunts us and makes no sense to us, a picture emerges which joins up the traumatic memory with other experiences in our life. People often report after EMDR that the memory has lost its intensity and has receded into the background – just one shape among many.
EMDR is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) for treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Recent research also suggests that it is effective in treating a range of other difficulties including phobias and chronic pain.
EMDR is a powerful therapy and is not appropriate for everyone. Clinicians must be qualified mental health professionals before they can undertake validated EMDR training. It is therefore strongly recommended that you consult legitimate therapists who have completed training which is accredited by EMDR Europe and EMDR UK and Ireland. More details can be found on the websites of these organisations.
Can EMDR be delivered online?
Emphatically yes! Since the first lockdown I have provided hundreds of hours of EMDR therapy. Many people have successfully made the transition from working face to face to doing EMDR online. For others, their first experience of psychotherapy has been EMDR online and it is their normal. While a few people have found it a challenge to work online, many others prefer EMDR online to working in the same room. Reasons given are:
- working on trauma is challenging and it’s helpful to feel safe in my own surroundings and do the therapy from home
- it’s great not having to travel
- I find work and family commitments hard to juggle and online therapy means it takes just an hour
- I feel as if the therapist is “right there” when therapy is online – it’s somehow more personal
¹Dr Russell Hurn, 2021
MSc MA(Cantab) BLitt BSc C.Psychol AFBPsS
HCPC Registered Counselling Psychologist
- EMDR Europe Accredited Consultant/Supervisor
- BABCP Accredited CBT Psychotherapist
- BABCP Accredited Supervisor
- BPS RAPPS Supervisor
- Gestalt Psychotherapist
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