EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an integrative psychotherapeutic approach that has been widely studied and is considered one of the most effective in the treatment of psychological trauma.
It is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on memories of traumatic and/or stressful experiences that contribute to mental disorders and psychological problems. EMDR allows people to quickly heal from symptoms and emotional discomfort.
The acronym EMDR indicates the use of bilateral ocular movements, capable of completing a pathologically interrupted neurophysiological process.
Repeated studies have shown that EMDR help people reach a condition of well-being that usually took years of therapy, in a shorter period.
EMDR psychotherapy employs a structured protocol aiming at the reprocessing of memories of past experiences, together with the emotions, beliefs, and the somatic feelings associated with them, which are no longer functional for the individual. These are retriggered in the present, and each time reactivated.
In EMDR psychotherapy, pathology and emotional difficulties are seen as the products of unprocessed memories that remain stored in the same form in which the first times were experienced. In this sense, the past is present.
The AIP model-New perspective for psychopathology
The theoretical-conceptual framework of EMDR therapy is the adaptive Information Processing, AIP (Shapiro 1995, 2001, 2006) This explains that the brain possesses an innate processing system that can assimilate all new informations into integrated neural networks , connencted with the rest of our life experiences.
The ocular movements used within the psychotherapeutic treatment with EMDR are able to restart the innate processing system and lead to a rapid resolution of the psychological traumas.
We all possess a self-healing system.
Let’s see its general ofunctioning:
- Each event links to existing networks; For example, the understanding of this article is possible because you have already experienced the written language; If you ever burned your hand on the fire, this information will end in a network concerning flames and the danger/pain associated with them; A clash with a classmate and his resolution, would form networks concerning interpersonal relationships and conflict management, and so on..
- When the system is working properly, each experience is processed and connected to the rest of the information.
- When a negative event shakes the system, it can happen that the processing and integration of information get blocked. The memory remains stored in its original form: thoughts, somatic sensations, emotions and images remain frozen over time, without integrating with other networks where there is adaptive information able to make us understand the experience in a positive sign.
- When a memory is stored in a excitatory, stressful and state-specific form, a variety of internal or external stimuli can trigger it (triggers), resulting in dysfunctional emotional, cognitive, and behavioral reactions (e.g. anxiety, nightmares, phobias, intrusive thoughts).
Memories stored in dysfunctional, unresolved form, are the basis of the future psychopathology because the perception of the situation is immediately associated with the memory networks, generating the symptoms and the discomfort.
Pathological traits of personality are also the result of unprocessed memories.
For example, the dysfunctional belief “I’m not good, I’m not lovable” is often linked to the presence of unprocessed memories that have to do with experiences where, usually in childhood, the person has experienced situations of devaluation or refusal, or a relational trauma. We can distinguish psychological traumas in capital T traumas and lowercase t traumas .
Trauma with capital T
Any event that poses a life threat and entail physical integrity of an individual is a trauma T. A violent aggression, a robbery, but also a traffic accident or be involved in a natural disaster (earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, etc.). The person experiences the risk of life. Even witnessing a violence towards another person, especially if dear to us, represents a trauma. Example are all children exposed to assisted violence, that is, living in abusive family environments, where one parent mistreat the other. Physical and/or sexual abuse, especially if perpetrated in childhood and emotional reference figures, has an even more serious impact as they add to the traumatic potential of trauma T and t.
Trauma with lowercase t
Traumas with lowercase t are relational experiences, typically occurring in childhood/adolescent times, and affecting in a negative way the construction of the identity schemes of the person. To be exposed to an unstable/unpredictable family environment, to an emotionally distant parent, or to emotional abuse, such as humiliation, rejection, excessive or unjustified reproach; each of these examples represent relational traumas, which, although smaller in size than those with capital T, are often repeated over time and affect the development of the entire child’s meaning system.
The efficacy of EMDR in the treatment of trauma is recognized worldwide. EMDR has in fact been judged effective by the World Health Organization, the United States Department of Defense and the major guidelines for clinical practice and excellence at an International level.
This therapy is also effective in treating the myriad of problems that every day bring people into therapy, such as low self-esteem, sense of impotence, anxiety or depression. To date, EMDR has helped millions of people of all ages to get rid of many types of psychological stress, and many victims of disastrous events such as the attack on the Twin towers, but also victims of tsunamis, earthquakes, violence and aggression.
Who can perform EMDR psychotherapy?
EMDR therapists are all mental health professionals, psychotherapists, who have received a certified training and have been approved by one of the EMDR associations in charge of quality standards all over the world.
In fact, the use of eye movements can lead to the emergence of memories, emotions and conditions that only the intervention of a properly trained expert can manage and solve effectively and safely.