The Duke of Sussex Prince Harry, in a new documentary series on mental health, was seen undergoing a form of therapy known as EMDR or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, to treat some unresolved anxiety and other issues associated with the death of his mother, Princess Diana of Wales.
Diana had died in a car accident in 1997, at the age of 36, when Harry was only 12. Many years later, he has found it hard to move on from the impact that it created in his life. Continued scrutiny of his family by UK tabloids has only worsened the condition, Harry claims.
The duke allowed cameras into his therapy session, in an attempt to de-stigmatise seeking help for mental health issues.
In order to understand more about EMDR, indianexpress.com reached out to Dr Prerna Kohli, a clinical psychologist, author, and founder of MindTribe.in, who has also been an advisor to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), and is a member of the Niti Aayog Nutrition Committee.
She said this technique is popularly used as an alternative form of therapy for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is different from traditional talk therapy and was developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro in 1989.
“The technique is based on the premise that if one recalls the past traumatic event while focusing on an external stimulus, it would cause bilateral eye movement. This, in turn, will reduce the impact of the traumatic memory and weaken the feelings, emotions and negative beliefs generated by the event,” she said, adding, “When people suffer from PTSD, they get flashbacks and nightmares. These are recurrent and highly distressing, but also a sign their bodies have not processed the trauma. Their minds keep reliving the event over and over. This causes negative beliefs related to self, impacts social, emotional and psychological well-being.”
According to Dr Kohli, with EMDR, the trained therapist puts the patient through eight different phases of treatment.
“The first phase involves taking a detailed case history of the patient. The second phase involves equipping the patient to manage the immediate symptoms by using some breathing, mindfulness techniques. Later, the patient and the therapist identify all the details of trauma. This involves noticing the physical sensations and marking the memory of the traumatic event. In phases four through seven, the targeted memories are treated by using recall as well as an external stimuli which can be visual, such as focusing on the finger movement of the therapist.
“It can also engage other senses like tapping the body while recalling. All these help produce a bilateral stimulation — called ‘multi-tasking’ to facilitate understanding. In the final phase, the patient evaluates how s/he felt and acknowledges progress,” she explained.
Dr Kohli said another way to understand EMDR would include knowing we all have memories filed in areas of our brain. “Memories related to traumatic events have a filing error. This causes flashbacks, recurrent nightmares. With EMDR, we restore the filing process of the brain and the negative symptoms reduce dramatically.”
The patient undergoing this treatment will typically need 12 sessions. While various studies have shown the treatment is effective, more research needs to be conducted to develop a better understanding.
It must also be noted that while EMDR is used for PTSD, it can also be used in other psychological issues such as depression and addiction. “For so long mental health has been ignored. I welcome celebrities like Prince Harry talking about it, as it helps eliminate stigma,” the doctor concluded.