One of the main approaches Caroline draws on is Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as an effective treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It can be effective in helping to reduce symptoms such as flashbacks and intrusive memories. EMDR is also increasingly used for the effective treatment of anxiety, panic, depression and loss.
When a person is involved in a traumatic event, they may feel overwhelmed and their brain may be unable to fully process what is going on. If we think of the memory store in our brain as being like a filing cabinet, the memory of the traumatic event can get filed in the wrong ‘drawer’ and can also be filed in a fragmented way. This means that the traumatic memories can be triggered easily and can feel very vivid and leave us feeling as if the traumatic event is happening again now. The person can re-experience what they saw, heard and smelled, and feel the full extent of the distress they felt whenever the memory comes to mind.
EMDR aims to help the brain ‘unstick’ and reprocess the memory properly so that it is no longer so intense and distressing. Using the filing cabinet analogy above, it aims to get the memory into the correct ‘drawer’. It also helps to desensitise the person to the emotional impact of the memory, which means that it becomes less distressing to think about the memory.
During EMDR you will be asked to remember the traumatic event while either moving your eyes from side to side (by following the therapist’s moving fingers) or by hearing noises in one ear then the other, or by tapping on one side of your body then the other. These sensations seem to help the memory become more fully processed in the brain.
The effect may be similar to that which occurs naturally during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, when your eyes move rapidly from side to side as the brain processes the events of the day. The end result is that the memory loses its emotional intensity. EMDR can help reduce the intensity and distress of different kinds of memories, such as what you saw, heard, smelled, tasted, felt or thought at the time of the traumatic event.