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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What is Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)?

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    I am a psychologist who is passionate about supporting people to move toward well being and a genuine connection to their lives. In my private … View Profile

    EMDR is an integrated type of treatment that incorporates a number of different therapeutic approaches and has specific treatment phases. It was originally developed in the 1980s by Francine Shapiro and is used predominantly in the treatment of ongoing issues following a traumatic experience. Some of these issues or symptoms include things like flashbacks, reliving of the traumatic memories or ongoing disturbances in sleep.

    A traumatic experience generally refers to any disturbing life event. While not everyone who experiences such an event will develop ongoing problems, for some these symptoms can actually greatly impact on their ability to function, to feel safe in the world or feel they can cope with life.

    EMDR is one of the most widely investigated treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder and it comprises a specific eight step treatment process, which includes, the use of either eye movements or bilateral left-right stimulation. An example of that left-right stimulation could be auditory stimulation or knee-taps.

    During an actual EMDR session, the client is focusing on past and present experiences, like a memory in the form of an image, for example, in brief sequences while at the same time they're focusing on an external stimuli. A sequence of focusing of attention and personal association is repeated many times in the session. Evidence indicates that EMDR works by assisting the client to reprocess or fully process the disturbing thoughts and memories that have become stuck or frozen at the time of the trauma.

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    Penny Lewis

    Clinical Psychologist, Counsellor, Psychologist, Psychotherapist

    I am a Clinical Psychologist with more than 25 years experience working with adults with a broad range of backgrounds dealing with a wide variety … View Profile

    EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing) is one of the two evidenced- based therapies recommended in the Australian Guidelines for the Treatment of Adults with Acute Stress Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
     
    When EMDR was first developed, there was a lot of scepticism about it as it seemed a bit weird (involving moving one’s eyes back and forth while recalling upsetting memories) and seemed to work much faster than other trauma therapies. This has meant that a great deal of research has been done to demonstrate its effectiveness.  For more information on EMDR and a list of EMDR practitioners in your area, see this website http://www.emdrtherapistnetwork.com/

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    My research interests include immunology and the mechanisms of amyloid formation. The latter has implications for people who are dealing with Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease … View Profile

    Writing as somebody who is an administrator of a mental health support forum, my impression from member contributions there is that sometimes EMDR can be very effective, especially for PTSD.

    On the other hand, sometimes it can be very confronting and unhelpful.

    If you do decide to try it (eg, through a mental health professional from the link that Penny has given above) I suggest that you ask him/her for a clear explanation of the potential benefits and risks.

    Think about what he/she says and then make up your own mind.

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    Michael Guy

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    I am a clinical and coaching psychologist (www.lifeaftertrauma.com.au) with over 15 years of professional experience. Recognized qualifications and lots of experience to give me skills … View Profile

    In my experience of using EMDR I agree with Dr Easterbrook-Smith that it can be dramatically effective or not effective.  I am therefore careful with ensuring that the client can cope with the effects that can result.  In some clients this is that they can remember additional aspects of the trauma that can be re-traumatising.  
     
    I also think that there are some clients with certain personality issues that can interfere with EMDR being effective.  In particular some clients have come to define their lives by the trauma and this acts as a ‘blockage’.  In clients where it is years since the trauma, there is a pattern of avoidance that is very hard to overcome.  When I was trained it was described as like being in a tunnel for the client and doing EMDR is putting the foot on the accelerator that leads to a very rough ride.  It is therefore helpful to focus on the eventual outcome of getting out of the dark. 
     
    I wish you all the best for de-sensitising the memories that are any trauma you have suffered. 

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