What is EMDR Therapy? And what is the FLASH technique?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a powerful psychotherapy approach that has helped over an estimated two million people of all ages relieve many types of psychological distress. Approximately 20 controlled studies have investigated the effects of EMDR therapy. These studies have consistently found that EMDR therapy effectively decreases/eliminates the symptoms of post traumatic stress for the majority of clients. EMDR addresses the emotional distress and somatic symptoms related to the initial trauma or hurt, as well as the distorted thoughts and negative beliefs about oneself that have resulted from the disturbing event(s). Because of the more far-reaching benefits of EMDR, clinicians have reported success in using EMDR in the treatment of these conditions as well:
Personality Disorders Panic Attacks Complicated Grief Dissociative Disorders
Body Dysmorphic Disorders Disturbing Memories Phobias Eating Disorders
Performance Anxiety Stress Reduction Addictions Sexual and/or Physical Abuse
So, would you like to know more?
The more recent development of the FLASH technique has impacted the way EMDR is used in therapy with some clients. With the use of the standard EMDR protocol alone, the client brought to mind the disturbing issue or event–what was seen, felt, heard, thought, etc., and the thoughts and beliefs that continued to be held about that event. The therapist facilitated the directional movement of the eyes or other *dual attention stimulation (DAS) of the brain, while the client focused on the disturbing material until the distress associated with the memory decreased to the point that it was no longer disturbing to recall. The actual processing of the traumatic memory might have taken an hour or more. With the addition of the FLASH technique to EMDR therapy, the client’s focus is on a positive, engaging event and is processed much more quickly–often in just a matter of minutes. The disturbing memory is only brought to mind to establish the target to be addressed and to initially, and then periodically, assess the level of disturbance attached to it. Just as in the original EMDR protocol, sets of the client’s preferred choice of dual attention stimulation are used until the distress related to the event is reduced to a calmness when recalled. While some aspects of the original EMDR protocol may still be used to bring about the greatest therapeutic benefit, the FLASH technique makes the power of the EMDR intervention more easily accessible to those who have resisted addressing their trauma-related symptoms because of the distress of reliving the experience, even if only for a few minutes. With the FLASH technique the individual does not have to expose themselves to the distress of re-experiencing the trauma or the emotional upset that would accompany that exposure. It seems that the processing occurs subliminally. In the case of the FLASH technique it is actually believed that the less the traumatic memory is brought to the conscious mind the better. The overall benefit of either intervention is not achieved until the person’s negative belief attached to the memory becomes less disturbing and is associated with positive thoughts and beliefs about one’s self. For example, a person’s belief might move from, “It was all my fault” to “I did the best I could.” Puppetry, therapeutic stories, art and play therapy have been used in conjunction with DAS to successfully treat children with EMDR and the FLASH technique. (If you are interested in learning more about EMDR treatment for children please see the page “EMDR & Children.”)
*Dual Attention Stimulation (DAS) refers to the use of alternating, right-left tracking that may take the form of eye movements, alternating tones or music received in each ear, or tactile stimulation, such as alternating hand taps or vibration delivered through specially designed pulsars. The dual attention stimulation is not physically painful in any way, though an individual may find a preferred form of DAS to use during EMDR treatment.
How long does EMDR therapy take? What about when using FLASH?
It is difficult to say how long it will take to complete EMDR therapy because each individual’s experience and life story is different. Patty often uses a a combination of the standard EMDR and the FLASH technique for those who are experiencing significant distress related to painful memories of hurt and trauma. She will use one or more sessions to get a good history of the individual’s experience. Then, she will work with her client to create a treatment plan specifically designed to address that person’s individual needs.
Patty will discuss both the FLASH technique and EMDR therapy more fully when she meets with her clients and will answer questions about these methods. Again, the type of problem, life circumstances and the amount and severity of previous trauma will determine how many treatment sessions are necessary.
EMDR therapy or the FLASH technique may be used within a standard “talking” therapy, as an adjunctive therapy with a separate therapist, or as a treatment all by itself.
–Information taken or paraphrased from the 2015 brochures “What is EMDR Therapy?” and “EMDR Therapy for Children and Adolescents” purchased from the EMDR International Association and from a webinar training done by Engel and Manfield on the FLASH technique on April 6, 2019.
Patty Roosevelt, LCPC/LPC, NCC, Certified EMDR Therapist, TBRI Practitioner
101 McCrosky Professional Park, Columbia, IL 62236