Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing represents one of the most important and innovative steps in treating post traumatic stress syndrome (TSPT) and psychological traumas of the recent years. This technique was discovered by Doctor Francine Saphiro in 1989, and it is sustained by extensive research and recommended as treatment by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE). EMDR is a complex psychotherapy method which integrates many of the successful elements of the other therapeutic approaches and combines them with eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation, in ways which stimulate the brain’s information processing system.
The primary purpose of EMDR is to cure traumatic or stressful memories stored in a dysfunctional manner in the brain, and to allow the client to respond adaptively in the present. EMDR uses the body’s natural ability to heal and allows the brain to solve psychological problems with the same speed with which the body heals physical wounds/illnesses. EMDR can speed up the healing process after a traumatic experience and the positive effects are irreversible. The number of sessions in EMDR treatment varies depending on the complexity of the problems that need to be solved, but in general, it is 40% lower than the number of sessions needed in cognitive-behavioral therapy. EMDR has the possibility to facilitate profound therapeutic changes in a lesser time than it was traditionally believed it would be necessary, regardless of the number of years from the emergence of the event. Many controlled studies indicated that more than 80% of the simple civil TSPT cases were eliminated after 4-6 EMDR 90 minutes’ sessions.
The TSPT symptoms (flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares etc.) are caused by the traumatic information stored and blocked in the Central Nervous System, in the right hemisphere of the brain, frozen in time, isolated in its own neural network and recorded in the same manner in which it was initially experienced. No learning can take place because the subsequent therapeutic information cannot create an associative bond with them. That is why, when thoughts about trauma appear, they are connected to all the negative features of the original event. The results of the classic therapy session, self-help books and experiencing counter examples are also stored, but they remain in their own network. There is plenty of research that proves that we process the intellectual material in a different network than that in which we process the emotional material. This explains why we can believe something in a part of our brain but in a different part we can still have strong negative emotional reactions related to the traumatic event. Although veterans, victims of sexual abuse and rapes can acknowledge they are not at fault for what happened to them, oftentimes they continue to fight negative cognitive reactions and disturbing emotions. Again, this conflict happens due to the fact that incongruent information is stored in different neural networks. The EMDR technique connects what we think to what we feel, so that the traumatic memory can be fully processed.
The purpose of the EMDR treatment is to quickly metabolize the dysfunctional residue from the past and to convert it into something useful. EMDR directly influences the way in which the brain functions and it can be seen as an inborn therapy that assists the brain in the process of working with the traumatic material, using a natural process called Adaptive Processing of Information. After a successful EMDR treatment, the traumatic memories are no longer painful when brought into conscience. Whatever happened can be remembered but it will not be disturbing anymore. When an event has been sufficiently processed, we remember it but we do not re-live the old emotions or sensations in the present. We are informed about our memories, not controlled by them.
EMDR therapists help their clients to reprocess traumatic memories by using a method which implies repeated stimulations from left to right (bilateral) of the brain, while the clients notice different aspects of the traumatic memory. It is thought that the EMDR bilateral stimulation creates biochemical changes in the brain, which help in processing information. The theories suggest that the way of action appears in the Limbic System, where the amygdala and the hippocampus are located.