EMDR- Therapy for Trauma Informed Care
Do you know what EMDR –Therapy is?
How it’s helpful?
If you don’t, I’m not surprised. I only heard of it 6 years ago… And I have 3 Psychology related degrees and have taught Psychology at University level… It was never mentioned?
In 1998 I completed my Honour Thesis on information processing styles under stress. Using novice skydiver’s (yes, jumping out of a perfectly good plane was the closest I could ethically get to a traumatic experience). And no, I didn’t encounter any research on EMDR at that time.
Meanwhile, two decades on and I’m again intrigued by trauma theory and subsequently the advances are impressive.
The USA are all over EMDR-Therapy, they seem to have a better grasp on trauma treatment compared to Australia. The advance could be due to the vast number of Combat Veterans or because EMDR was discovered in the USA… Either way EMDR-Therapy is relatively young in the world of therapies. It was developed in the 90’s but it’s a baby who deserves to be a giant.
What is EDMR-Therapy
To wind back, EMDR – Therapy stands for Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing Therapy. It’s call to fame is its evidence based treatment of PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s a Gold Star treatment for PTSD, endorsed by the big wigs:
– World Health Organisation (WHO)
– USA Department of Veteran Affairs
– USA Department of Health
– American Psychological Association
– Australian Psychological Society
And the list goes on….
Advantages of EMDR-therapy
What impresses me about EMDR is its holistic approach. It’s one of the few therapies that concurrently engage:
– Body sensations/physiology,
– Images/other senses that the brain uses to encode memories/experiences.
It’s an 8 phase intervention and it’s an exposure therapy at heart.
AIP Theory, Memory and EDMR
EMDR-Therapy is underpinned by the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) theory. Which assumes the brain has the capacity to heal itself. The therapist just facilitates this natural healing process in session.
All going well, our natural healing occurs during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, this is when the brain processes the experiences of your day. And your experiences are your memories… different material is bought together to form those memories… the thoughts you had, the pretty view you saw, the terrible smell or physical pain that joined together to make your daily experiences.
For example… think of the beach. What is your best memory of the beach?
Images – Blue horizon, where the sky meets blue sea. Cold water on my feet as my toes disappear in the wet sand.
Thought – I am at peace.
Feeling – Relaxed.
Physical sensation – Heat on my skin, wind in my hair & soft muscles in my shoulders. Smell of salt.
Hold on to all of the parts of that memory… your experience.
Firstly, your brain takes all these different parts of your daily experiences from your episodic memory. Secondly, it processes it into the semantic memory via REM sleep. Furthermore, REM sleep networks all the parts into your brain. It then allows you to ‘make sense of it’ within the context of your adaptive past life memories/learning.
Sometimes your daily experiences re-enforces your past learning, sometimes it challenges it. So we grow and expand our learning.
It is well worth ‘sleeping on it’ if you have a problem in your life, because overnight your brain is likely to draw on your past life experiences to help you find a solution.
If you want to learn about the nerdy ‘how’ of AIP then stay tuned. In future blogs I’ll put my academic hat on and unpack the AIP model to explain how EMDR-Therapy works.
Meanwhile, consider distress to be the consequence of parts of our experience/memory getting ‘stuck’ in the episodic memory. The experience exceeds our brain’s ability to naturally heal (i.e these parts couldn’t’ be processed up into ‘made sense of by’ the semantic memory during REM sleep).
Therefore, the therapist helps the client pull the parts of the experience ‘memory’ together and to safely process it from episodic to semantic memory. In addition, the processing aims to support changes in unhelpful beliefs, distressing body sensations and emotional intensity. EMDR –therapy helps the client ‘make sense’ of the distressing / stuck experience in an adaptive way, supporting growth and learning.
EMDR-Therapy has both research and face validity as support. Above all, over 20 Randomised Control Trials (RCT) endorse the efficacy of the treatment.
The research is showing great impact on many other conditions, such as anxiety, depression & phobias. It’s use in sub threshold PTSD and early childhood (complex trauma) is widely spoken about. There is growing research evidence to support the practice based evidence of EMDR helping millions of people.
This blog is a general overview of EMDR in broader terms, but stay tuned. I have a lot more to come.
Book in a call, follow me on LinkedIn or join my Facebook Page if you want to learn more about trauma. Thanks for reading.
Psychologist, Coaching Psychologist, Trainer
2. Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR) Basic Principles & Procedures. (2001). F, Shapiro. Guilford Press