Mt Lawley Counselling Centre, Perth - Western AustraliaMt Lawley Counselling Centre, Perth - Western Australia

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Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Fiona Owen

Counsellor and Psychotherapist
Perth, Western Australia

EMDR has been shown to be effective in the treatment of trauma. The approach is used worldwide and has shown to have successful outcomes in treating both complex trauma and single event traumatisation. Many therapists have confirmed the success of the EMDR process in working with a range of traumatic experiences and the resulting maladaptive coping strategies some people use to try and function after exposure to trauma.

Memories are stored in different parts of the body. A memory will contain sensory information about an event, the meaning a person gives to the event and their emotional response to the event. A memory network consists of connected memories. The connection between memories is by way of common elements of the stimulus, common meaning, common emotional response or combination of these. The memory network is activated by associated stimuli, associated interpretations, associated emotional states or a combination of these. For example I know yellow roses have a scent and they attract bees, they also have thorns. I have this information because my memory has that information stored. When I see a yellow rose I like to smell it and yet at the same time I am careful to looks for bees and not to touch the stem.

Often when something traumatic happens it seems to get locked in the nervous system with the original picture, sound, thoughts and feelings. This prevents the appropriate integration and storage of that memory.The memory can be a single event or something that has happened over an extended amount of time. Since the experience is locked in the system it will continue to be triggered whenever a reminder comes up. This can be the basis for considerable discomfort and negative emotions such as fear and helplessness that the body seems unable to control. These emotions are connected with old experiences that are being triggered. The eye movement used in EMDR somehow appears to unlock the nervous system and allow the brain to process the experience so that the memory can be appropriately filed. As processing unfolds, all aspects of the memory are affected- the memory itself, associated thoughts, the emotions and body sensations.

Recovery depends on the degree to which the memory network is reactivated and information which is non threatening can be introduced to counter the threatening interpretation allowing processing of traumatic memories.

In EMDR a node is the memory or image of an event, its associated meaning and the emotional response. The connection between nodes may be by way of common elements of the stimulus, meaning or emotional response. For therapy to be most successful the trigger memory, the meaning and the feeling of the encoded memory need to reconnected to allow processing. A traumatic event causes changes in the brains structure that disrupts the brains ability to process material. The emotional part of the brain inhibits the thinking part which is where the processing takes place. EMDR allows these parts to communicate so the client can look back at the experience more clearly. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder rises when the brain fails to appropriately consolidate and integrate episodic ( the event) memory into semantic (meaning making)memory and as a result associations between that traumatic event and other related events fail to develop preventing processing of the event. EMDR restores the balance, allowing accelerated information processing by improving the hemispheric communications.

In the procedure of EMDR the therapist will get the client to track their fingers as they move them across the clients line of vision. Simultaneously the client will work to witness a chosen trauma memory and with support from the therapist, process the memory.

EMDR can be used not only for reprocessing stuck memories but also for the adaptations that have developed to cope with the traumatic memory. Certain behaviour often arise initially as a way to cope with the unprocessed memory. These start out as stress reducers and can become highly dysfunctional over time as the behaviour becomes addictive and used out of awareness for relief. EMDR has also been shown to be helpful in treating the associated disorders such as excessive use of alcohol and other drugs, obsessive compulsive disorders and even disorders such as skin picking and nail biting.

For further information go to www.getselfhelp.co.uk - EMDR client handout

If you would like any further information about the EMDR, please contact Fiona Owen Certified Gestalt Psychotherapist, MSc Social Science (Counselling), BSc Psychology
fionaowen@me.com
Call 0409 995 411

Click here to go to Fiona Owen's page

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