How does EMDR therapy work?
Does EMDR work? How does EMDR therapy work? I often hear these questions from patients, colleagues who don’t practice psychology, and even acquaintances who don’t work in psychology but have heard of it. Let’s see in this article some frequently asked questions about EMDR, how it works, what are its scientific bases and in which cases it can be used.
How does EMDR work?
Increasingly used by psychotherapists, and now also known to the general public, EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing – desensitization and reprocessing through eye movements), is a structured psychotherapeutic approach, recognized by the World Health Organization in 2013 as a treatment of choice for the treatment of traumatic events. EMDR therapy is also used to treat various symptoms related to negative life experiences, and more.
Let’s look at all the most common questions related to EMDR therapy.
EMDR Therapy: How does it work?
EMDR therapy uses alternating bilateral stimulation (eye, touch, or sound), delivered by a trained psychotherapist, to process memories of an experience that was negative or emotionally traumatic.
During the session(s) with the EMDR method, memories are “desensitized”, i.e. they lose their negative power, regardless of how much time has passed since the original disturbing event. Meanwhile, it is possible to achieve a more adaptive reprocessing of the memory itself, so that it no longer produces psychological symptoms. At City Psychological Services, we provide emdr in London to help people with different mental health issues especially ptsd.
Does EMDR Therapy Work? Is it effective?
EMDR is an evidence-based approach and there are now numerous studies published in scientific journals that certify its validity for a wide range of psychological problems. Research has shown a proven neurobiological efficacy.
They approved EMDR therapy :
- American Psychological Association (1998-2002)
- Italian Ministry of Health (2003)
- American Psychiatric Association (2004)
- International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (2010)
- World Health Organization (2013)
Of course, it is advisable to rely on an experienced and specially trained therapist. At this link it is possible to consult my basic and specialist training in EMDR treatment for various situations of psychological distress. In 2014 and 2020 I obtained the European certification ” Practitioner ” (expert therapist) accredited by EMDR Europe .
EMDR how it works – The scientific basis of the method:
The basic assumption is that to find relief from the patient’s current symptoms, it is necessary to adaptively resolve the traumatic or negative experiences that are the cause.
The theoretical framework of reference is that of AIP (Adaptive Information Processing – Shapiro, 1995). According to the model of Adaptive Information Processing, traumatic memories are fixed in the memory together with the characteristics that the subject experienced when he was experiencing the event: there are therefore disturbing emotions , physical sensations , images , perceptive and sensory aspects and beliefs about the self .
When the event is too intense to be “digested” by our brain, all this information remains blocked (“frozen”) within the neural networks. The memory can thus remain “isolated” within the brain structures and, precisely because it is not elaborated, continue to produce psychological discomfort and symptoms even for many years.
It can therefore be said that “time does not always heal wounds”, but a specialist intervention is necessary.
EMDR how it works – here are the most frequently asked questions:
What is meant by PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA according to EMDR therapy?
Different meanings have been given to ” Psychological Trauma ” throughout the history of psychology (of psychotherapy , or of psychotraumatology ). Analyzing the etymology of the word (“wound” in Greek), we can define it as a “ wound of the soul ”: something breaks the person’s habitual way of life, breaks the balance and generally has a strong and negative impact on the person who lives .
We can distinguish between:
- Traumas with a small “t” , which consist of even common life experiences : the perception of being in danger may not even be particularly understood. Many events that have marked us in a negative way , and from which we may still bear the wounds, can be defined as traumatic. For example, it can be a matter of problems with the reference figures of childhood (conflicts, humiliations, or abrupt separations); or rather common but emotionally stressful life events (mournings and separations, illnesses, family conflicts, job loss, etc.).
- Traumas with a capital T, on the other hand, are events that have put us in contact with an intense feeling of danger , in which we have come into contact (or at risk) with death, and in which our physical integrity , or that of close people , she was threatened . This category includes experiences of greater magnitude such as natural disasters (for example an earthquake), or disasters caused by human hands (serious accidents, violence suffered or witnessed, or abuses).
These situations lead to a more or less intense emotional reaction, depending on the circumstances and the person. Not everyone reacts the same way and the psychophysical reaction can also vary greatly from subject to subject. After the traumatic event, the brain and the whole organism face a physiological stress reaction.
Sometimes our nervous system is able to autonomously “digest” all information and emotional reactions. Sometimes, however, it is impossible to return to the previous balance, as the emotional impact of the event was too strong. In all of these cases, treatment with EMDR therapy can help .
EMDR how it works: how does an EMDR therapy session take place?
EMDR therapy can be started after one or more preliminary interviews dedicated to the anamnesis, the collection of information and the applicability of the method, to then draw up an effective and targeted work plan.
During the actual EMDR session, moments of bilateral stimulation are alternated with moments of dialogue and verbalization, in a cadenced rhythm, always guided by the therapist.
At the end of EMDR treatment, the experience is used by the patient constructively and integrated into a positive cognitive and emotional pattern.
It should be emphasized that memories are not repressed, but are perceived with a healthier and more neutral detachment, even memories that have been particularly negative or disturbing.
With EMDR therapy, how many sessions are needed? How long does EMDR therapy last?
Before starting EMDR treatment, the therapist will propose some anamnestic and data collection interviews, which allow you to make a clinical assessment and develop the most appropriate therapeutic plan.
The duration of the process will depend on the type of problem encountered, the patient’s history and the therapeutic objectives .
In the case of single and limited events (for example a road accident), a few sessions may be sufficient. This case occurs when the person who turns to EMDR therapy has good functioning in all areas of his life, and did not have symptoms or psychological problems before the traumatic or negative episode to be treated.
In case of cumulative, complex or repeated trauma, and when the person’s discomfort has a longer history, EMDR should be included in a wider and longer-lasting psychotherapy journey.
The evaluation that is made by the therapist is never standardized, but the therapeutic plan is tailor-made according to the person and the case. The work plan is always discussed during the first or first interviews, and will be updated several times along the way.
Who can practice EMDR?
THERAPIST SIDE: EMDR can be practiced by anyone who has received official training from the EMDR Italy Association . At this link it is possible to consult the list of accredited therapists, region by region. Under the Lombardy Region, you can also find my name: Dr. Chiara Venturi, Psychologist Milan Psychotherapist.
PATIENT SIDE: EMDR can be applied to a wide variety of symptoms and situations. For an evaluation on the specific case, it is advisable to contact a certified EMDR therapist.
Does EMDR work alone? Can you do EMDR yourself?
It is not possible to do EMDR yourself. It is always necessary to rely on an accredited expert psychotherapist . The certified therapist knows the patient, his history and his problems. He knows the EMDR protocols and will apply them according to the needs of the person and the objectives of the job, in the right time. The whole process, if well conducted, takes place in conditions of safety for the patient, if it takes place in the presence of those who know how to conduct it. Access to the material that emerges in the EMDR sessions takes place in the presence of the psychotherapist.
For this reason it is not possible to do EMDR alone .
EMDR exercises: are there any “exercises” to practice at home?
EMDR exercises are a very common question found on the net and in forums. Patients or interested people often ask: Can I practice EMDR at home through exercises? The question is very delicate.
The answer is definitely ” NO “, in case you are not accompanied by an experienced therapist. Indeed, it is necessary for a psychotherapist to guide and direct all phases of the work. You cannot practice EMDR exercises alone and without supervision .
EMDR is not in fact a relaxation technique or autogenic training, but a structured psychotherapeutic method which provides precise protocols, learned from psychotherapist professionals (who therefore already have at least 11 years of specialized training to their credit!) during a special training, which includes a final exam that must be passed in order to become a certified EMDR therapist.
During the course, the therapist may, if he deems it appropriate, give small “homework”, but this must always be evaluated and supervised by the professional to whom one entrusts.
Does EMDR THERAPY work like hypnosis?
No. They are two very different psychotherapeutic methods. The question is frequent: many people tend to combine them since both can use the eyes as a channel to focus attention. These are therapeutic approaches that are based on different assumptions and that use different techniques. In working with EMDR, for example, a change in the state of consciousness during the psychotherapy session is not foreseen.