EMDR is an 8-phase treatment for trauma. It is based on the theory that memories of traumatic incidents are stored dysfunctionally, together with the uncomfortable or distressing feelings and sensations experienced at the time of the trauma. Hence, we get 'triggered' if we are reminded of what's happened. EMDR changes the way memories are stored, to make them more like ordinary recollections of the past.
One of the defining characteristics of EMDR is the use of bilateral left/right stimulation whilst thinking about an aspect of the memory, either (most famously) using left-to-right eye movements, or alternating taps on the left/right sides of the body, or alternating auditory tones. Bilateral stimulation seems to 'jumpstart' normal memory processing. Sometimes memories are resolved very quickly, but just as often it's a gradual process of change.
EMDR can be used with most clients, and can be quick and effective for recent, acute trauma. It can be easily integrated into other work, so you might start with talking therapy, then do a couple of sessions of EMDR, and then go back to talking.
Processing childhood traumas is usually more complex, and a longer preparation phase may be recommended. This ensures you can manage any disturbing feelings that arise once you start thinking about the past.
Many people starting EMDR are reassured to hear they will not need to provide a detailed description of their trauma to the therapist for it to work.
© Dr Hannah Cruttenden
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