What is EMDR?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and is a therapeutic approach commonly used to treat trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.
When a person experiences psychological trauma or highly stressful events, they are not always able to process the relevant information (i.e. thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations). As a consequence, the latter end up getting “stuck” inside of them and can resurface later on, as if the person was still reliving the traumatic or stressful event.
EMDR therapy aims to evoke the traumatic experience, so that memories can be adequately processed and symptoms can be reduced.
EMDR: how does it work?
As explained by Dr. Roger M. Solomon – who will give an online talk at the “Attachment and Trauma” Congress in Rome hosted by ISC Training – EMDR therapy is an eight-phase method that involves processing the memories from the past lying at the root of the problems in the present.
By using EMDR technique, the therapist specifically stimulates both the patient’s brain hemispheres: this can be done through alternated eye movements or a right/left tactile stimulation, without intervening directly to prevent the processing from being interrupted.
From a clinical perspective, after one or more EMDR sessions, the patient stops reporting PTSD symptoms. Furthermore, the memories associated with the traumatic event stop being so negatively emotionally laden, emotions become less overwhelming and bodily sensations become less intense.
Another significant change is the patient’s ability to better distinguish real dangers from imaginary ones or the ones heightened by anxiety.
Which disorders can be treated with EMDR?
EMDR therapy is generally used to treat symptoms associated with different kinds of psychological traumas, regardless from their emotional impact on the patient. As a matter of fact, when we talk about “traumas”, we need to differentiate between those provoked by particularly stressful events and the less severe ones. The latter include, for example, the relational trauma caused by the attachment figures’ inability to adequately meet the child’s emotional needs. The following experiences belong, on the contrary, to the first category:
- Trauma caused by natural disasters;
- Trauma caused by car accidents;
- Trauma caused by abuse;
- Trauma caused by violence;
- Humiliating life experiences;
- Childhood trauma.
In particular, EMDR therapy has proven to be highly effective in the treatment of the following disorders:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
- Severe stress disorder;
- Complex PTSD;
- Dissociative disorders;
- Adaptation disorders;
- Attachment disorders.
Furthermore, EMDR therapy is frequently used to work with children, considering that they are unable to cognitively process memories.
EMDR: side effects
Since EMDR work is particularly intense, patients may cry or feel very tired at the end of a session. This depends, of course, on the intensity degree of the emotional, cognitive and bodily processing.
If the trauma has not been fully processed during the session, patients may also relieve the memories or unpleasant sensations associated with the traumatic event over the following hours.
If the patient experiences any of these side effects after an EMDR session, the therapist can consider moving up the next session, if necessary.
In 2003, the Italian Ministry of Health has formally approved the use of EMDR in the treatment of trauma-related disorders. In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) has also acknowledged EMDR as being an effective treatment approach to psychological trauma and trauma-related disorders.
This topic will be further explored by Dr. Roger M. Solomon, internationally renowned Expert in the field of EMDR, during his online talk at the Congress “Attachment and Trauma: Effective Clinical Interventions and Research”, hosted by ISC Training and taking place at the Auditorium Antonianum in Rome, from September 30th to October 2nd (from 9:30am to 6:30pm).