Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by one or more distressing, traumatic or unexpected experiences. It can be an overwhelming condition to live with, often involving flashbacks to the distressing incident, avoidance of triggers or reminders, and feeling alert to danger. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) as one of the most effective ways of treating PTSD. We asked one RSCPP therapist, Chartered Psychologist Maria Carolina Yepes, to explain what it is and how it works.
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is based on our understanding that memories are normally stored in the mind and only recalled when necessary. Much of this natural mechanism occurs during sleep, particularly during rapid eye movement sleep (REM), when we are dreaming. EMDR utilises this natural process to help traumatic memories to be processed. Eye movements similar to those during sleep are recreated during therapy whilst you notice your thoughts, feelings and sensations.
With repeated sets of eye movements, memories tend to change in such a way that they loose their painful intensity and become more like neutral memories. During EMDR, you remain in control and fully alert. EMDR is not a form of hypnosis. The therapist will guide you, but will intervene as little as possible. Reprocessing is usually experienced as something that happens spontaneously and new connections are felt to arise quite naturally.
NICE recommends 8-12 sessions, depending on the severity of the trauma.
EMDR is most effective for the treatment of single traumas like accidents, however it can also be used for multiple and complex traumas including childhood traumas, provided the therapist is qualified and experienced. Most people could benefit from EMDR, however there are cautions against using it with people affected by certain conditions - e.g. pregnancy, epilepsy, some neurological conditions, substance misuse, chronic mood regulation or severe interpersonal difficulties.