EMDR as trauma therapy

The abbreviation EMDR stands for  Eye Movement  D esensitization  and  R eprocessing . EMDR was invented by American psychologist Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s. EMDR is a relatively new method in trauma therapy. The effectiveness of  EMDR in trauma therapy  has been scientifically proven.

What happens with EMDR?

During EMDR therapy, the patient should evoke memories of the trauma under the guidance of the psychotherapist. He follows the therapist’s fingers with his eyes, moving them quickly and rhythmically to the left and right. EMDR should only be performed as part of a more comprehensive trauma therapy by an appropriately trained doctor or psychologist.

Sense of EMDR therapy

We store normal experiences in memory by sorting them and linking them to previous content. A trauma, on the other hand, is probably not sorted normally, but is stored separately together with all the associated sensory impressions and thoughts. Later, anything reminiscent of the trauma — a loud bang, a smell, a touch — can make the victim feel like they are reliving the situation. Fear , helplessness and physical reactions such as  shortness of breath  and  tachycardia are the consequence. The aim of EMDR therapy is therefore to sort the memory of the trauma into memory like a completely normal memory. Those affected should no longer feel defenseless in the situation, but should be able to perceive and endure the memories normally after trauma therapy.

EMDR: effect of the method

Trauma therapy with EMDR is intended to use three mechanisms to ensure that the affected person no longer experiences the memories of the trauma as threatening:

  • In EMDR, memories of the trauma are repeatedly evoked in the safe environment of therapy and thus associated with a sense of relative safety. In this way, the person concerned learns that the memories are not threatening. This is because memory ties everything together that often occurs in pairs. Similar to the fear of heights or  fear of flying  , the fear decreases the more often you face it.
  • Researchers assume that memories are sorted in dreams and stored in long-term memory. The rapid eye movements during EMDR therapy are designed to simulate the eye movements we make when we are dreaming. EMDR is intended to stimulate memory processes and enable faster healing through trauma therapy.
  • The rhythmic stimulation through the eye movements is also intended to make it easier for the patient to relax and to link the threatening memories to neutral stimuli. Therefore, some therapists also use bilateral touches on the arms.

Does EMDR help those affected?

Scientific studies on many patients with post-traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD ) have shown that EMDR therapy achieves just as good effects as other psychotherapeutic methods of trauma therapy. These include simple exposure therapy, a standard procedure in  behavioral therapy . Similar to the EMDR method, the patient, with the support of the therapist, remembers the trauma in a controlled manner – but without any particular eye movements. Since EMDR does not perform better than simple exposure treatment in comparative studies, it is questionable whether eye movements actually have an effect on treatment success.

What do you have to consider with EMDR?

Before the therapist starts EMDR therapy, he should get an idea of ​​whether the person concerned is suitable for EMDR therapy. The patient should practice stabilization techniques beforehand. These provide a sense of security and control during the intense and frightening memories of the trauma. EMDR therapy has been recognized by the Scientific Advisory Board for Psychotherapy as an effective method for trauma therapy in adults since 2006. Although the legal requirements are met, the costs for an EMDR treatment are currently (as of the end of 2010) not reimbursed by the statutory health insurance companies.

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