Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)

  • What is EMDR therapy?

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a relatively new form of psychotherapy which was initially designed for those suffering from anxiety conditions, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder and public speaking anxiety, and thus to process and alleviate symptoms associated with traumatic experiences. Unlike cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a form of talk therapy commonly used, EMDR attempts to directly work with the processing of trauma in the brain through eye movements.

  • How does it work?

The treatment session for EMDR commonly lasts around 50 minutes. Our therapist Celestine Chua will first understand the past events which has caused the trauma, understand current triggers, and look at future needs. After having a greater understanding of the situation, preparation with the client would be needed where explanation of the symptoms and techniques for an increased sense of control would be fostered.

Reprocessing of traumatic events through EMDR starts when the therapist requests for the client to elicit the image and negative beliefs, and notes the emotional and physical sensations that comes with it. The therapist then directs eye movement and starts to elevate the positive beliefs and integrate it into memory. Finally, the therapist would check for any residual discomfort, or body sensations which would be addressed.

Towards the end of the session, briefing would be conducted, and self-control techniques are reinforced, and evaluation of treatment and its effects would be conducted.

  • Evaluation of EMDR

As EMDR is relatively new, the mechanism of EMDR is unknown. Studies have been conducted and researchers are still trying to understand how eye movements could contribute to positive treatment outcomes. Nonetheless, multiple studies noted that there are significant improvements of EMDR therapy in patients. A study conducted about the effectiveness of EMDR with female survivors of childhood sexual abuse found that traumatic symptoms had significantly reduced in those that went through EMDR therapy as compared to those that did not go for any treatment and even those with routine treatment. Larger changes in negative behaviour was also found in children with self-esteem and behavioural problems undergoing EMDR therapy as compared to CBT. This reveals that positive effects of EMDR therapy are significant for children and adults alike.

Comparing to CBT to EMDR, EMDR seems to be a less tedious process as compared to CBT. The reduction of negative symptoms due to trauma is much rapidly achieved as compared to CBT, as it does not involve a detailed description of the event, direct challenging of beliefs, extended exposure and homework, required in CBT. Additionally, evidence had been found that EMDR is better than CBT in reducing post traumatic symptoms and even anxiety, though there was no difference in the two methods in reducing depression.

The use of EMDR has been empirically proven to be effective and may in some situations be more effective than CBT in reducing traumatic symptoms or negative beliefs. Through eye movements, desensitisation to negative experiences practiced in EDMR therapy allows making meaning and gaining acceptance of what would be a seemingly bleak negative experience.

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