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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - Psychological Therapy for EMDRThe Psychology Service

What is EMDR?

After someone suffers a very traumatic event, they can experience distressing symptoms, in which they relive the event, such as through flashbacks and nightmares. While most recover naturally, in some cases the normal processing of the experience is blocked, and the symptoms persist to the extent that they suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). EMDR is a therapy designed to reduce the distress associated with traumatic memories. While research is still ongoing, and it is not yet clear exactly how it works, the outcomes of EMDR have been extremely positive. It is thought to work by helping the person to access and process blocked traumatic memories.

EMDR is not normally used as a stand-alone therapy, but is an effective additional therapeutic technique to address “re-experience” symptoms such as flashbacks and nightmares. It has also been used with good effect in the treatment of phobic anxiety symptoms following traumatic events. It is mostly used in combination with CBT. It is equally effective in adults and children.

How does it work?

During an EMDR session the client is asked to focus on emotionally disturbing memories or thoughts. At the same time they are asked to follow an alternating stimulus. This is commonly the therapist’s hand moving from side to side, but can also sometimes be sounds alternating from ear to ear, or tapping on alternate hands. It is thought that this restarts the natural processing of memories that have previously been blocked, and allows the level of anxiety associated with memories of the traumatic event to subside.

There are three main phases in EMDR. Firstly the traumatic memories are processed. Next the processing shifts to any current circumstances that elicit distress. Lastly the processing shifts to working on imagined future events, to assist the client in acquiring the skills needed to function better in future.

How long does it take?

Sessions of EMDR tend to be longer than normal, lasting up to two hours. This is because it is important to allow time for the full processing of a set of memories before the end of the session, and the time taken for this to occur can be unpredictable. There have been quite dramatic results with even a single session producing significant symptom relief in some cases, but normally 4-8 EMDR sessions are used in combination with additional sessions of CBT.

What is the training?

EMDR therapists must be qualified and skilled in another form of therapy such as CBT or Counselling, before undertaking accredited EMDR training. The training takes place in two separate stages, Level 1 and the more advanced Level 2, both of which have to be completed before a therapist is considered fully qualified to practice EMDR.

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