What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy.

It is a form is a psychological treatment that, when administered by an appropriately trained and experience therapist, can help people to deal with the symptoms and emotional distress (like anxiety, sleeplessness, panic attacks and depression) that are the result of traumatic life experiences.

What is EMDR used for?

While EMDR was initially developed to help clients overcome the anxiety associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) it has also used to treat other mental health issues. There are specific EMDR protocols for:

  • Phobias
  • Anxiety
  • Panic Attacks
  • Chronic Pain
  • Addictions
  • Nightmares
  • Overeating
  • Social Anxiety
  • Recent traumatic events
The Evidence for EMDR

EMDR has been the focus of a wide range of controlled clinical studies since the late 1980s.

EMDR is recognised as an effective trauma treatment and recommended worldwide in the practice guidelines of both domestic and international organizations, including the World Health Organisation, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the Australian Psychological Society (APS) and the Australian Centre for Post Traumatic Mental Health.

The EMDR Treatment Process – a brief overview

EMDR therapy deals with past memories that are linked to current symptoms.

Focus is given to: past disturbing memories and related events; current situations that cause distress; and developing the skills and attitudes needed for positive future actions

Each case is unique but EMDR has a standard eight-phase approach.

In the initial, preparation phases of treatment the psychologist takes a client history, and works with the client to find out what the current problems and symptoms are, how long they’ve been going on, and what the systemic, relationship and other issues are. The psychologist then identifies what events and associated memories are causing the patient problems.

The next phase are preparation. The psychologist teaches a variety of self-control techniques so that the patient learns to shift from negative feelings to positive ones.

In subsequent phases the psychologist works with the client to develop a target for EMDR. This involves identifying:

  • a snapshot image that represents the target and the disturbance associated with it.
  • a negative thought that feels especially true when the client focuses on the target
  • a positive thought that is preferable to the negative thought

Once this has been achieved the patient is ready to reprocess the memory. To do this the psychologist asks the client to hold different aspects of the traumatic event or thought in mind while inducing a bilateral stimulation of the brain.

This is most commonly done by the patient moving their eyes from side to side following the-therapist s fingers. It can also be achieved through tactile stimulation (e.g. tapping on hands) and auditory stimulation (e.g. tones played through earphones).

This process allows for the mind to reprocess memories in a way that is more positive. The goal is to gain a sense of emotional control and clients commonly report that their symptoms are reduced, more positive thoughts come to mind and they feel more confident in stressful situations.

The final phases of EMDR treatment are about preparing for the future. This may include examining the progress made, reviewing coping strategies, and identifying future events that may be distressful and processing them.

How does EMDR work?

The precise mechanism by which EMDR works to resolve traumatic stress is unclear – researchers are just beginning to understand how the brain processes intense memories and emotions.

It seems that when a person experiences an extremely upsetting event, their brain may not process information as it does ordinarily. The traumatic experience can become “frozen in time,” and remembering it may feel as bad as going through it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings haven’t changed.

A number of neuropsychologists hypothesise that EMDR enables a patient to rapidly access traumatic memories and process them emotionally and cognitively, which facilitates their resolution.
By accessing these memories in the context of a safe environment, information processing is enhanced, with new associations forged between the traumatic memory and more adaptive memories or information. These new associations allow complete information processing, new learning, elimination of emotional distress, and the development of cognitive insights about the memories.

Think that EMDR Therapy could help you?

We have three Senior Psychologists with a Special Interest and Expertise in EMDR Therapy; Heath Christie, Juliet Whitlock and Priya Jungic.

Heath has undertaken Master Class level training in EMDR therapy. Importantly, he also has extensive experience using EMDR to help people overcome severe trauma and other psychological issues. These have included front line police, ambulance and fire fighting personnel as well as and Australian Defence Force members.

Juliet has special interest in treating complex trauma. She has completed E.M.D.R (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) Advanced Therapist Training and is a Full Member of the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) . She continues to engage in ongoing learning and supervision in this area.

Priya’s passion and specialty is treating complex trauma and long-standing mental health issues. She has completed EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) Advanced Therapist Training and is a Full Accredited Member of EMDR Association of Australia (EMDRAA)

Make an appointment with Heath Christie, Juliet Whitlock or Priya Jungic, using our Request a Booking form .

More Information

Read Heath, Juliet and Priya’s profiles here

Read about Trauma Counselling | Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Counselling here

Further Reading

Shapiro, F (2001) Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Second Edition. UK: Guildford Press

The EMDR Institute Research Overview – http://www.emdr.com/research-overview/

EMDR International Association What is the actual EMDR session like? http://www.emdria.org/?120