Did you know that there is a therapy that has been proven to help treat abuse & trauma victims? This therapy is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR for short. EMDR has been around for a few decades now, and there is a lot of research that backs up its effectiveness. In this article, we will take a closer look at the science behind EMDR and how it can help those who have experienced abuse.
EMDR is a type of therapy that uses eye movements to help the brain process and heal from trauma. The theory behind EMDR is that when we experience a traumatic event, our brains can become “stuck” in that moment. This can lead to a host of problems, such as anxiety, depression, flashbacks, and more. EMDR is thought to help “unstick” those memories and allow the brain to process them in a healthy way.
The history of EMDR begins with a report by Francine Shapiro in California. This young American student was very interested in the connections between body, brain, and mental states. She also had a personal issue: a well-treated cancer that nevertheless caused her worry about her own health.
By chance Francine observed that by alternating her eye movements ,left and right, she improved her mental state. She observed the same effect by consciously repeating the experience on herself. She tested the procedure involving eye movements on veterans from Vietnam who presented the clinical criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and what resulted was the EMDR protocol. She then introduced desensitization techniques to treat phobias and anxiety-provoking stimuli.
Many studies were subsequently conducted to evaluate the efficacy of EMDR in different situations and with a variety of client populations. These studies consistently showed that EMDR was more beneficial than no treatment or other therapies (such as relaxation or cognitive-behavioral therapy). Furthermore, EMDR appeared to have a long-term benefit, even after a single session.
EMDR relies on 3 actions:
- Bilateral Alternating Stimulation
- The Orienting Response
- The Structure of the EMDR Protocol
Bilateral alternating stimulation is a form of stimulation that engages both sides of the brain. This can be done through eye movements, auditory tones, or tapping on the body. The theory behind this is that it helps to “unstick” memories that are stuck in the brain. According to the scientific journal authored by Dr. France Hour:
“Several neurophysiological mechanisms have been considered to explain the effect of bilateral alternated eye stimulations: analogy with eye movements observed in REM sleep, changes in ortho-parasympathetic equilibrium, facilitation of inter-hemispheric interactions, double attention, distraction (taxing the working memory), orienting reflex …76-77. The most recent results emphasize the role of eye movements in recalling the memories stored in different parts of the brain dealing with memories, in particular in the working memory. This memory has a limited capacity and when two tasks, recalling a memory and eye movements, are requested at the same time, this memory is taxed and the memory becomes more vague and less emotional. In general, each recall of a memory is likely to modify it and it is returned and reconsolidated in the long-term memory in this modified form. Recent work on the mechanisms of memorizing, recalling and re-encoding of memories give a neurobiological basis to these hypotheses.
If the distraction hypothesis is correct, any procedure that produces double attention or “distraction” during memory recall will reduce the precision and the emotional impact of traumatic memories. In experiments carried out on control adults, it is observed that mental calculation, the game “Tetris” and the concentration on one’s breathing confirm this effect. This latter hypothesis could provide an explanation for the efficacy of alternated bilateral auditory or sensory (alternating pattern) stimulation in the process of desensitization.”
The orienting response is a natural response we have. When we encounter something, our bodies naturally respond in a specific manner. The trigger might be anything from a sound to a fragrance. It is believed that this response aids in the processing of information. According to the orienting response hypothesis, bilateral eye movements (or alternating bilateral stimulations) activate an “investigative reflex” that is subsequently manifested by an alert reaction and a pause that leads to deactivation in front of an absence of danger. In lay terms, recalling the response in a safe environment, where the danger is not present, dulls the heightened sensitivity to the response trigger.
The orientation response is a physiological process that directs attention towards a new and meaningful stimulus.
The EMDR Protocol employs a variety of psychotherapeutic tactics and focuses on emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations, but it places a high premium on the patient’s mental state assessment. This structure, on the other hand, serves to create a sense of safety for the patient as well as the therapist, one of which is unquestionably responsible for the success of EMDR.
There are eight phases to EMDR therapy, and the eye movements are just one part of it. During the first few sessions, the therapist will work with the client to identify any negative beliefs they have about themselves. They will also help the client develop positive beliefs to counter the negative ones. Once this is done, the therapist will begin to work on the actual trauma memories.
The therapist will guide the client through a series of eye movements, while also having them think about the memory. This can be a tough process, but it is often very effective. One of the most interesting things about EMDR is that it can be used to treat a wide variety of mental health issues, not just abuse. In fact, EMDR has been shown to be effective in treating PTSD, anxiety, depression, and more. This is likely because EMDR helps the brain to process and heal from trauma in a more holistic way.
If you or someone you know is struggling with abuse, EMDR therapy may be a good option to consider. This type of therapy has been shown to be effective in treating a variety of mental health issues. If you have any questions about EMDR, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Mosaic Way Counseling for more information.