EMDR therapy: overcoming trauma with eye movements

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) was developed in the United States in the 1980s. It is a psychotherapy that works with the physiological components of each ailment. In other words, it understands trauma as dysfunctional information stored in the brain that fails to integrate normally into everyday experience.

This model explains how the subjective traumatic experience of the person, and not the event itself, can be recorded in the nervous system, exerting a lasting effect on it. That is, the trauma is recorded as information trapped and isolated in a neural network in such a way that our innate processing system cannot access it and therefore does not make the necessary connections with adaptive networks. This conditions subsequent experiences, even if years have passed since the traumatic experience.
According to this therapy, current triggering stimuli can activate a neural network, bringing back feelings, beliefs and emotions that are part of the memories. This would explain why a person continues to react the same way he or she reacted at the time of the trauma. That is, trauma can manifest symptoms such as fear, anger, rejection, and physiological or muscular blockage.

What are the principles of EMDR therapy?

– Dual focus: a link is established between the current consciousness and the traumatic neural network, favoring the processing and the decrease of emotional intensity during the activation of negative information.
– Alternative bilateral stimulation: decreases physiological activation, increases episodic associations and the recognition of truthful information.
– Theoretical framework (PAI Model): it understands that there is an innate system of “psychological self-healing”, which empowers the patient and guarantees that the professional does not influence the process through his interventions.
– Three-pronged protocol (past, present and future): the aim is not only the disappearance of symptoms, but also for the person to be able to develop his or her adaptive potential. To this end, past traumatic experiences and current triggers must be addressed.
– It is based on brain neuroplasticity caused by desensitization processes, not extinction: this type of EMDR therapy seeks the generalization of the therapeutic effects to other experiences related to the basis of the source memory. That is to say, it does not seek that the patient “erases” what has happened to him/her, but that he/she manages to integrate it into his/her life and can access that memory as a learning experience.

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– It is a brief and effective psychotherapy: EMDR is based on scientific experience and focuses on the root of the problem through a structured method that reduces the number of sessions needed and the probability of relapse.

In which cases is EMDR therapy indicated?

This therapy can treat people who have suffered abuse, accidents and physical or psychological violence. This technique has proven successful in the treatment of anxiety, panic attacks, phobias and obsessions.
Over the years, it has been proven that the treatment has a greater effectiveness in those cases in which the anxiety disorder is related to an event that is known to the patient. For example, it would be more effective to apply this technique with a patient who has a phobia of dogs after a bite than with a patient who has a phobia of snakes but has never had contact with them.
Although it is a therapy that is based on scientific experience and has demonstrated clinical efficacy, it is not certain that it relieves the symptoms of more complex disorders, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

What are the sessions of this type of therapy like?

There are different types of bilateral stimulation techniques on which EMDR therapy is based:
– Visual: this is the most commonly used method. The patient must make horizontal eye movements following the therapist’s fingers working within the patient’s visual field.
– Auditory: tones or bilateralized music are used, which must be listened to with headphones while the therapist controls the speed and intensity of the sounds.
– Kinesthetic: consists of small gentle taps by the therapist on the knees, shoulders or hands of the patient.
At the end of the session the patient should not follow any guidelines or perform any homework. What is sought with this therapy is that the patient is able to remember without pain and that emotions become adaptive, making the self-evaluation that the patient experiences about himself/herself positive without any effort.