What is EMDR? Prince Harry uses therapy to deal with Princess Diana's death as he feels 'hunted and helpless'
Harry describes flying into London as being a 'trigger' for his anxieties and said he feels like 'there is no escape'
Prince Harry was just 12 when Princess Diana died in 1997. The tragedy left a very traumatic effect on the mind of the Duke of Sussex, who has been vocal about his mental health issues and has also shared how therapy helped him address his suffering. In his new Apple TV+ docuseries -- ''The Me You Cannot See' -- which is on mental health with Oprah Winfrey, released on Friday, May 21, the 36-year-old mentioned a particular therapy he found really helpful in his case -- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
Developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro in the 1980s, the therapy helps people ease distress around hurting memories. As per reports, clinicians have long been using it, but it has become a very popular treatment among people to deal with trauma or unfortunate events. In the new docuseries, Harry allowed cameras to record his session as he explained how he feels terrified to fly back to London as it reminds him of Diana's death. He feels being "hunted", "helpless" and as though "there is no escape".
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Wendy Byrd, a professional counselor and president of the board of directors at the EMDR International Association, said, “It's almost a wave that can't be stopped because people are hearing their friends talk about it, they're seeing the changes in their family members. When I was trained in 2008, I would have to go in and explain what EMDR was and tell my clients why I thought it was such a good therapy. ... Now, I would say almost everyone that comes into my door is asking me for EMDR.”
Harry also said that the therapy not just only helped him, but also benefited him with his relationship with his wife Meghan Markle -- the Duchess of Sussex -- with whom he shares a son and soon the couple will welcome a baby daughter. He moved to EMDR after trying traditional behavioral therapy for years. “One of the biggest lessons that I've ever learned in life is you've sometimes got to go back and to deal with really uncomfortable situations and be able to process it in order to be able to heal,” Harry added.
What is EMDR?
Explaining the therapy, Byrd told USA Today: “EMDR allows the brain to heal from experiences that were traumatic or adverse or overwhelming by allowing the brain to process that information and to store it in a way where the brain now knows, 'I'm in a different circumstance, that's not happening to me anymore.”
Healthline described that the therapy “is thought to be effective because recalling distressing events is often less emotionally upsetting when your attention is diverted. This allows you to be exposed to the memories or thoughts without having a strong psychological response. Over time, this technique is believed to lessen the impact that the memories or thoughts have on you.”
How is EMDR conducted on a person?
Byrd said that when a person approaches a clinician for the therapy, the clinician first starts with questions to put forward the components of a memory, including sensory information. During the session, the person is also asked how they felt or how their mind or body reacted. Subsequently, eye movements or tapping are added -- which is called bilateral stimulation. “It will make something that feels upsetting, less upsetting. It helps the brain make images that are very vivid, less vivid. And part of that is because of what we call dual attention, meaning I'm present in the room with the therapist, or over Zoom, nowadays, and I'm thinking about that experience and it's all the ingredients that the brain needs to engage that adaptive information processing mechanism,” she stated.
Byrd also noted that not just adults, kids can also take EMDR therapy if they are going through any painful or adverse experience. “What we know about adversity is it sits on the body and causes harm, and later in life can cause things like chronic illness or chronic pain or mental health disorders. The earlier and sooner we can take care of a trauma and get it off of the nervous system, get it processed, the better the health of the whole person is,” she said while encouraging people to consider EMDR if they have any mental issue.
Byrd added: “People feel like sometimes what happened to them isn't big enough. They should just be able to get over it. ... And that just breaks my heart because I know that they can feel better and that they do deserve to feel better. I just wish that people knew that they could come in, we could figure out some of the things that are happening that are causing them pain, and that it would be not that long of a journey before they could get some relief.”