Yes, the EM in EMDR does stand for Eye Movements, which is how this therapy was first discovered 30 years ago.
And yes, that’s Mark and Jutta waving our arms around in the picture above, not practising EMDR but alongside Lake Taupo on this 2016 occasion, enjoying a 3000-km six-week tandem tour the length of both New Zealand islands from top to bottom, with, as is the way with cycling, much bilateral stimulation.
So, EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing – is a still relatively new therapy which, it’s true, does require some explanation. (Indeed, the American psychologist Francine Shapiro who first conceived this approach in the late 1980s later rather regretted restricting the definition to eye movement.)
Built on a clear and grounded understanding of how the brain and the body experience and process trauma and distress, EMDR is now undoubtedly one of the most successful, effective and intensively-researched ways we know of tackling the aftermath of trauma.
And that is true not just for the “Big T” traumas such as road accidents, bomb attacks or assault, but for the “small t” traumas as well that accumulate in most people’s childhoods and lives and often underlie their seeking of therapy.
EMDR can also be what, with our background in this kind of therapy, can be understood as a powerfully transpersonal experience – calling in and revealing a connection to greater and deeper truths about what it means to be human against the background of three-and-a-half billion years of life’s evolution on this extraordinary planet of ours.
(And don’t worry – EMDR isn’t a cult or a religion, and we’re certainly not high priests!)
At Braynework we have been using EMDR with clients for approaching two decades now, and are regularly inspired – and often still astonished – by the positive changes our clients can find themselves experiencing.
So how does EMDR actually work?
In a surprisingly short time, EMDR has chased the ghosts away of nearly fifty years. A half century on from a very difficult divorce, I feel new and different. Strong and happy.
I recommend EMDR for anyone who has pain from past experiences which they cannot seem to get over. It has been wonderfully healing.
Although, of course, nothing can ever be entirely guaranteed to work, our experience of using EMDR is that it can bring about deep, powerful and rapid change, reaching parts which other forms of therapy sometimes just don’t shift (with apologies to Heineken beer for what follows…)
Simply put, EMDR uses bilateral stimulation of the physical senses, replicating the kind of eye movements that pretty much everyone on the planet, from whatever culture, can be observed experiencing when they dream in what’s now known as REM sleep, for Rapid Eye Movements.
Eye movements work well, but working now exclusively online, we use an app called Bilateral Base which also generates local tones in your headphones, with the effect of getting the brain’s thinking left hemisphere to communicate intensely with its feeling right half.
OK, that’s a sweeping generalisation of brain science, but we hope it gives you an idea, and we might find ourselves using both eye movements AND auditory tones, or just one, or sometimes another wonderful form of bilateral stimulation called the butterfly hug, where you fold your arms across your chest and tap your lower shoulders left and right, left and right.
The effect is to create healing connections at the deepest emotional, physical and intellectual levels, kick-starting the dreaming-related brain circuitry that makes sense of, and often quite quickly lays to rest, old distress which has until now continued to impact negatively on the present.
Indeed, just as the physical body heals naturally given a chance, EMDR is built on the knowledge that, given the opportunity, the psyche can do the same.
The pysche is, after all, also a function of our brains and bodies, and whether the healing sought is physical or emotional, wounds first need to be cleaned out and, as it were, bones reset.
With single-event traumas such as a car accident or an assault, much good work can often be done in just three or four meetings.
Sometimes, if the trauma sits deeper – perhaps tangled up with childhood experiences of abuse or neglect – it can take longer, and needs to be embedded within a wider, slower and more exploratory approach.
Standard session length is 55 minutes, although when working through the main phase of EMDR, with your agreement we might agree to work for longer sessions of between 90 minutes and two hours, carefully paced at a depth and speed which is right for you.