What is EMDR?
What is EMDR?
EMDR (or Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a treatment for trauma. More specifically, its evidence base shows that it is effective for the treatment of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). PTSD is a mental illness that can develop following severe psychological trauma. It is, in effect, an emotional reaction to the impact the trauma has on one’s life, one’s body, one’s mind, and one’s future. You can read more about PTSD in the linked blog.
EMDR considers trauma to be an interruption in your memory network. This interruption can give you the sense of ‘stuckness’ and make it seem that what happened in the past can happen any time again. It often feels as if the trauma is very recent, even when it is years old. It may also come in various sensory forms, including thoughts and images, body sensations, even sounds, and smells.
Processing a trauma simply means that your mind learns to understand it well enough and can view it in all its component parts, in order to file it away in your personal library of life. With most of our life experiences, this happens naturally and often without much awareness. However, certain incidents and events in our lives can shake us to such an extent that they cannot be fully processed without assistance. Any effective therapy will result in this processing being facilitated to completion.
EMDR uses ‘dual attention’ engagement during processing. It has you recall an incident and as you do that, it engages you in an activity that requires your attention. Maintaining your attention on both the memory and the current activity simultaneously allows the mind to effectively unscramble the puzzle of the memory and re-lay its pieces. As each memory is stored in a network of other memories, the release of one often discharges many others.
You may have heard about different types of therapy for PTSD & trauma. A few are evidence-based (e.g. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Prolonged Exposure Therapy), others are not. EMDR has a firm and lasting bank of research evidence confirming its effectiveness for treating PTSD. It is different from the others, in that it focuses on a detail of a memory that stands out (a ‘hotspot’), rather than the full narrative. It further uses the ‘dual attention stimulation’ (most often eye movements, but there are other ways), which people frequently describe as helpful in staying focused. The EMDR therapist measures change at each step and only interferes when change does not happen spontaneously. There is no homework in EMDR, though you may agree on certain tasks to assess ‘real-life’ change with your therapist.
At CMAP Health, we currently have one fully Certified EMDR Therapist. Certification requires at least two years of supervised practice, as well as ongoing updates and further education to maintain the Certification. Certification is only possible with the EMDR International Association.
We welcome your reaching out to discuss how EMDR may be helpful to you. It is also offered online.
About the Author:
Kirstine Postma CPsych
Kirstine Postma is a clinical psychologist practicing in Ottawa. She is trained in CBT, DBT, EMDR,
Interpersonal Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. She also works as a trainer and supervisor in CBT.
Kirstine specialises in the treatment of PTSD, using multiple evidence-based models.