EMDR as a trauma therapy

The abbreviation EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR was invented in the late 1980s by American psychologist Francine Shapiro. This makes EMDR a relatively new method in trauma therapy. The efficacy of EMDR in trauma therapy has been scientifically proven.

What happens at EMDR?

The patient should recall memories of the trauma in an EMDR therapy under the guidance of the psychotherapist. He follows his eyes with the fingers of the therapist, who moves them quickly and rhythmically to the left and right. EMDR should only be performed in the context of more comprehensive trauma therapy by a properly trained physician or psychologist.

Sense of EMDR therapy

We store normal experiences in the memory by sorting them and linking them with previous contents. A trauma, however, is probably not sorted normally, but stored separately with all the corresponding sensory impressions and thoughts. Later, everything that is reminiscent of the trauma - a loud bang, a smell, a touch - cause the person affected to feel the situation again. Fear, helplessness and physical reactions such as shortness of breath and rapid heart beat are the result. The aim of an EMDR therapy is therefore to remember the memory of the trauma as a normal memory in the memory. Those affected should no longer feel helplessly relegated to the situation, but after a trauma therapy the memories can be perceived and endured normally.

EMDR: effect of the method

Traumatic therapy with EMDR is supposed to have three mechanisms that cause the affected person to no longer experience the memories of the trauma as threatening:

  • In EMDR, memories of the trauma are repeatedly brought out in the safe environment of the therapy and linked to the feeling of relative safety. Thus, the person concerned learns that the memories are not threatening. That's because the memory connects everything that is often paired. Similar to fear of heights or fear of flying, the more you get used to it, the less fear it gets.
  • Researchers assume that memories are sorted in the dream and stored in long-term memory. The fast eye movements during EMDR therapy are designed to simulate the eye movements we do when we dream. EMDR is intended to stimulate memory processes and enable faster healing through trauma therapy.
  • The rhythmic stimulation by the eye movements is also to facilitate the patient to relax and to couple the threatening memories of neutral stimuli. Therefore, some therapists also use bilateral touches on the arms.

Does EMDR help those affected?

Scientific research in many posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients has shown that EMDR therapy is as effective as other psychotherapeutic procedures in trauma therapy. This includes simple exposure therapy, a standard procedure in behavioral therapy. Similar to the EMDR method, the patient with the help of the therapist remembers the trauma in a controlled manner - but without any special eye movements. Since EMDR in comparative studies does no better than the simple exposure treatment, it is questionable whether the eye movements actually have an effect on the success of the treatment.

What do you have to pay attention to at EMDR?

Before the therapist starts with the EMDR therapy, he should get an idea if the person is suitable for an EMDR therapy. The patient should practice stabilization techniques beforehand. These provide a sense of security and control during the intense and anxiety-inducing memories of the trauma. EMDR Therapy has been recognized by the Scientific Advisory Council for Psychotherapy as an effective treatment for adult trauma therapy since 2006. Although this fulfills the legal requirements, the costs for EMDR treatment are currently (as of the end of 2010) not reimbursed by the statutory health insurance funds.

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