EMI – Eye Movement Integration: a neurotherapy to integrate trauma memory

EMI – Eye Movement Integration: a neurotherapy to integrate trauma memory

What is trauma?

“Trauma is the unique individual experience of an event or enduring conditions in which the individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed and the individual experiences (either objectively or subjectively) a threat to his/her life, bodily integrity, or that of a caregiver or family” (Saakvitne, K. et al, 2000).

We are living in an age when all of us are more likely to be exposed to the tragedies of war, terrorism, natural disaster or other forms of violence such as physical or sexual assault. Even when we are not experiencing the event directly, we are witnessing it through media which is often graphic and bombarding. Trauma can also be experienced simply be the relating of it through another party. Fortunately not all serious traumatic events lead to experiencing long term trauma as the brain can naturally process it over a course of 4-6 weeks. However, sometimes the senses do not get integrated and we can then suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, which come under the umbrella term of symptoms for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

We might experience traumas in our early years such as emotional, physical or sexual abuse and neglect. It is known that a young child can experience long term (chronic) trauma if they experience abuse such as that mentioned or witness a threat to their caregiver. If any additional traumas occur later in life, these can develop into more complex trauma which can lead to experiencing severe depression, anxiety, addictions, and OCD ( obsessive compulsive disorder)

How trauma affects memory

Memory research has helped to clarify the nature of trauma and the body’s resulting neuro-physiological reactions. As an example, scientists report that the brain’s amygdala and hippocampus heighten their intercommunication as emotional memories are formed and the body is flooded with a variety of stress hormones (Richter-Levin and Akirav, 2000). At the same time it is believed that these changes may interfere with the brain’s processing of information about the event. In effect, a person’s ability to deal with a traumatic situation is blocked, causing the event to remain in an anxiety producing form when stored and retrieved as a memory. As a result, some people continue to recall the full force of an event, along with the spectrum and severity of emotions experienced at the time of the trauma. This seems to prevent the brain from adequately processing and categorising the memory as, in the past, and of no current danger to the individual. Subsequently, the memory, including its associated emotions, is “replayed” or re-experienced in the present. This occurs in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, or panic attacks and can lead to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Trauma memory can also be held physically with symptoms being seen in a variety of ways; unexplained pains, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrom), general long term ill health.


The use of EMI

Eye Movement Integration™ (EMI) is a brief therapy technique that is effective in treating acute and post-traumatic stress, but also phobias, the symptoms associated with addictions and negative or self-limiting thoughts. It was developed by Connirae and Steve Andreas in 1989 to treat traumatic memories.
For most people the therapeutic use of eye movements is associated with Francine Shapiro’s Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). That method, though, favours rapid lateral movements while EMI uses much slower movements designed to connect all the eye positions. EMI is thought to be more effective, kinder and more rapid than EMDR. The importance of connecting all eye positions is based on the NLP theory that the various movements of the eyes access different sensory systems and, therefore, different areas of neurology. Added to this is the EMI assumption that a traumatic experience remains unintegrated in a person’s life precisely because it is isolated, both in their neurology and in their thinking. The principle behind EMI is that “all the relevant multisensory dimensions” are required for full integration of the disturbing experience and thus the aim of the eye movements is to create “new linkages between different types of sensory, affective, or cognitive information.” The result does not extinguish the memory of what happened but it does strip off the emotional charge that was causing all the problems. Clients often comment a week or so afterwards that the memory now feels more distant, “over there” (rather than very present), “fuzzier”. over the next few weeks, they are aware of changes in how they perceive life, have less fear in general and can see hope.

How I use EMI in my practice

If the reason for wishing to come to psychotherapy is to deal with a specific one off event  then it is possible to work within a limited time frame of approximately 6 session. Once we have worked together to ascertain a trauma history, and to build up the skills to increase emotional resilience, the EMI can take place. It’s important to then have follow up therapy sessions to work with what the EMI intervention showed and to be able to integrate that new knowledge into the present.

Its more probable that a person who is struggling with symptoms of PTSD has experienced complex trauma ( see “What is trauma”). The psychotherapy will need to be longer in these cases to suit the need of the individual and may require working with EMI for different trauma in that person’s history.

EMI is not a therapy to be used as a “one off”, but as part of therapy if it is appropriate for that person.

I know how effective EMI can be through the feedback from my clients and from my own experience. Over 85% of the clients I have worked with, who have had EMI have seen significant and long lasting improvement in their mental health and a significant or total reduction in the symptoms of PTSD.I have used EMI to help with lifelong emotional and physical distress experienced with clients aged from late teens to late 80’s. The traumas have varied from early neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, unresolved early grief, abuse and grief experienced in adulthood, and the post effects of experiencing ill health, traumatic childbirth, car accidents, or other life changing events. There are numerous other examples and sometimes the trauma is experienced by being witness/ carer to another’s death, ill health, life condition.