By Audrey Johnson
on 09 December, 2016

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and EMDR

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) was discovered and developed in 1987 by Francine Shapiro.

It was initially developed as a treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and has been used successfully with war veterans and survivors of rape.

In 2005 EMDR was recognised as a treatment for PTSD by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). In 2013 the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy and EMDR as the 2 psychotherapies for children, adolescents and adults with PTSD.

How do Trauma Experiences Affect us

Everyone has traumatic experiences during their lives. Sometimes the effect of a trauma can stay with us long after the event. This seems to have something to do with the way the brain processes information when trauma occurs.

Usually memories have a story-like quality and consist of our impressions and interpretations as well as facts about what has happened. When something dangerous happens, the body and brain respond in a different way. The body recognises the emergency and takes proactive action. The messages to the brain appear to be put in an emergency store without going through the normal memory processing procedure. These experiences with the original sounds, thoughts and feelings are recorded in the brain in an unprocessed form. They can be very upsetting when they are recalled as flashbacks, nightmares or outbursts.

How can EMDR Help?

EMDR is an approach that seems to help ‘unlock’ the brain’s processing so that traumatic memories can become ‘ordinary’ memories.

EMDR can also be helpful with anxieties and other common childhood issues. It is sometimes difficult to separate a child from their ‘problem’ and to separate a child's learning difficulties, from their anxieties and fears. EMDR can be a useful tool to help alleviate some of the fear and anxiety for children around areas of complexity.

How does EMDR Work?

EMDR involves asking the child/adult to think about the upsetting event and then look at and follow the therapist’s finger back and forth. For young children other types of left-right stimulation such as hand taps might be used. After 15/20 seconds, the therapist stops and asks the child/adult to take a deep breath, let go of the image and rest.

The therapist then asks the child/adult what comes up next in their mind. Typically something shifts and a new image, thought, feeling or physical sensation is reported. This image is held whilst another set of eye movements is completed.

Sometimes upsetting thoughts and feelings need to be dealt with. The process continues until the image is no longer upsetting.

The Stop Sign

The child / adult is given a sign to use when they want to stop. Especially when working with children it is important for the child to know that they are in control of the process.

Final Thoughts

Trauma in children and adults can cause panic, powerlessness, anger and sadness. EMDR therapy integrates a range of psychological therapies within a comprehensive framework to effect therapeutic change.

For more information about the types of therapy our educational psychologists can provide, contact Jacqueline Graham on 0844 967 1111.

Further Reading

Transforming Trauma with EMDR

Laurel Parnell.  Norton. Comprehensive and simple, narrative introduction to EMDR.

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, Protocols and Procedures

Francine Shapiro. The Guildford Press. The handbook on EMDR by its founder Francine Shapiro. Everything you never even knew you wanted to know about by far the most effective and enduring treatment for trauma.

European Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

United Kingdom Psychological Trauma Society (UKPTS).

National Institute for Clinical Excellence, on PTSD treatment guidelines

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