Sian Morgan and ‘Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing – EMDR’ 20th February 2021 via Zoom: a brief review by Jacqueline Holloway
Sian, an EMDR Europe Accredited Consultant and Trainer, generously shared her knowledge and experience whilst demonstrating a deeply passionate understanding of her subject. She began by saying discussions may trigger memories and asked us to stay grounded within self-care. EMDR, she explained, is the most researched therapeutic modality which has helped illustrate the efficacy of using EMDR for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and was approved by NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) in 2005. It is a psychological method for treating unprocessed emotional difficulties of the mind and body and is a complex psychotherapeutic one which ‘slots in well with other therapeutic modalities, especially with those involving body work’. Sigmund Freud (1895) had also commented ‘I think this man is suffering because of his memories’.
This story begins with an American psychologist/trauma therapist, Francine Shapiro (1948 – 2019), walking in a park in 1987 and closely watching squirrels running to and fro through the trees in the sunshine. She realised disturbing thoughts and feelings she had been experiencing had subsided. Francine researched what she noticed in herself and discovered others had the same response to possible ‘rapid eye movements’. Eventually Francine added other elements such as a cognitive component creating a protocol she called ‘Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing – EMDR’.
EMDR works with how life experiences are stored in the brain and the body. If stored maladaptively they become frozen/stuck in a way that can be retriggered in the ‘here and now’ by something as simple as a sound, smell, touch, taste or image – the trauma re-ignites. Current psychological disturbances, pathological traits, problem behaviours, beliefs and affects are manifestations of the ‘unprocessed’ disturbing memories dysfunctionally stored in the brain and body. We explored the Triune Brain: the Neo Cortex, Limbic Area and the Reptilian Brain and its impact on our health and wellbeing. The Amygdala, part of the limbic system, has one in each hemisphere of the brain and is where emotional memories are stored, given meaning and remembered. Flight and fright responses naturally release adrenalin which when harnessed to a recurring negative belief might cause the ongoing experience of feelings of panic, anxiety and other painful issues.
‘Traumatic memory is overwhelming, and components are stored as fragments of memory. These are frozen and remain unintegrated. When triggered in the present, this can lead to re-experiencing. Unprocessed trauma is stored in separate unconnected networks. EMDR allows these networks to link with other networks that hold associated information and experience causing spontaneous insight and change in perspective’.
Sian said our bodies remember and ‘live’ all our experiences and traumas, large or small. EMDR ‘speaks the language of trauma at all levels and that’s why it is so effective’. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk explained this further in ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ and his short video shown on ‘Safety and EMDR, illustrated a need for people to share their experiences and talk them through. EMDR assists clients to safely face difficult memories in the present whilst not being re-traumatised which enables the body and mind to process more naturally. The memory stays but the feelings settle which means it is safe to remember as it will no longer be unhelpfully ignited by outside stimuli.
It is not possible for EMDR to be carried out alone. The process requires an experienced EMDR practitioner for support and guidance throughout for maximum positive affect. EMDR is similar in a way to REM sleep in allowing the body and mind to sift and sort the experience and create a processed accessible memory without the danger of re-traumatisation. EMDR, whilst not suitable for everyone, is successful with issues such as grief, anxiety, PTSD, addictions, pain, body dysmorphia, medical trauma, attachment and others. The process covers 4 stages through 8 phases:
- Accessing the targeted memory which does not have to contain the full-blown details.
- Stimulating the information processing system of the brain through EMDR.
- Move the information accessed to adaptive (positive/appropriate) resolution.
- Reprocessing – Learning, i.e. the information accessed transmutes information through
all channels of memory network in the brain, body and soul.
The 8 Phases of EMDR which enable therapists to maximise treatment affects in a logical, standardised manner which allows for the evaluation of progress by both parties throughout.
Phase 1: History and Treatment Planning: A treatment plan is agreed tailored to the clients specific issues. A separate protocol allows for clients who do not or cannot recall disturbing memories.
Phase 2: Client preparation: Techniques are discussed, including Bilateral Stimulation (BLS) exercises and the EMDR theory and process. It is important the client is psychologically able to self-care.
Phase 3: The Assessment: Scoring by the client is used – 1 to 7 to check the impact of the positive self-belief statement chosen. A further score, between 1 and 10, is in respect of the distress or disturbance felt in connection to the chosen traumatic memory.
Phase 4: Desensitisation: The therapist works with the ‘traumatic scene’ agreed, negative beliefs owned as well as physical and emotional reactions to the memory. BLS begins. The client is to notice any memory their body and/or brain is raising. The client’s scoring is checked. This may return to zero, the issue resolved. Occasionally other disturbing memories are identified for further work.
Phase 5: Installation: It is in this phase the EMDR therapist will work with the client to increase the sense of positive belief identified so as to remove the negative.
Phase 6: Body Scan: The client scans their body for residual disturbances. The client states if any are identified and further BLS sets will continue until the feelings and sensations clear. An EMDR session is not complete until the client can scan without bringing up tensions of any kind.
Phase 7: Closure: If the processing of the issues is not completed, the therapist will ensure the client is calm, grounded and has a sense of equilibrium. Clients are asked to keep notes of dreams or experiences which can be worked through in the next session. Scoring checks will be made.
Phase 8: Re-evaluation: The therapist checks once Phase 6 is complete, whether positive results have been maintained. New painful memories may be identified for further treatment. Sian stressed the importance of completing all eight phases just as we would when taking a course of antibiotics! For interest, the EMDR Europe Assoc. state trainees must already be Accredited by the BACP, UKCP etc. The training takes two years and to then become a Supervisor, is at least a further five years.
Thank you Sian for being such a naturally open, accessible and so knowledgeable a speaker. This was an inspiring and well-presented day which the feedback received confirmed as did the wish from some to study EMDR further. Finally, a thank you to everyone there, this was HACP’s first day workshop via Zoom and it succeeded.
Bergmann U. PhD, 2012 ‘Neurobiological Foundations for EMDR Practice’.
Springer Publishing Company, New York.
EMDRIA, Francine Shapiro Library: www.emdria.omeka.net.
Journal of EMDR Practice and Research: Springer Publishing.
EMDR Europe Assoc: www.emdr-europe.org. EMDR Assoc. UK: www.emdrassociationuk.org.
Shapiro F. 2018. ‘Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, Protocols and
Procedures’ The Guilford Press, New York.
Van der Kolk B. 2015 ‘The Body Keeps the Score’. Penguin Books, London.
YouTube video ‘Dan Siegel’s Hand Model of the brain’ https://youtu.be/gm9ClJ74Oxw