Why Prince Harry Used EMDR and Why You Should, Too

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By Rebecca Kase, Founder — Kase & CO 

In the recently released Oprah Winfrey-produced docuseriesThe Me You Can’t See,” Britain’s Prince Harry talks about the life-changing effects of therapy — and specifically Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. This evidence-based therapy approach has not only helped royalty, but everyday folks looking for a way to tap into specific experiences or memories that may be lingering and having an adverse effect on one’s anxiety or depression levels.

What is EMDR? 

Anyone who has trauma or stress and anxiety in their lives can tell you that it can be very hard to shut down the looping tape of those traumatic or stressful experiences. With EMDR, therapists help patients identify memories or experiences that have contributed to feelings of anxiety, sadness, grief, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

With the use of the EMDR protocol and bilateral stimulation, those traumatic memories and experiences resolve. The therapy was first developed in the mid-1980s by Frances Shapiro, PhD., and has been extensively studied for over 30 years, becoming one of the most reliable and sought-after treatments for afflictions such as PTSD.

Clients who have tried EMDR therapy have reported a noted reduction in distress and vividness associated with those traumatic memories. They have also experienced the ability to think about those previously distressing memories without upset or fear once they complete EMDR therapy.

EMDR has been used to help treat a number of issues, from depression and anxiety disorders to chronic pain. Practitioners have found that clients typically report that an ongoing issue “no longer bothers them” following a full round of EMDR therapy. However, EMDR should not be considered a “magic bullet,” but instead an extremely effective option that will work for many, but not necessarily for all. 

In order to be effective, there is some preparation work that needs to be completed prior to undergoing the therapy. EMDR is an 8-phase therapy, and each phase is important to ensure the work is successful and safe. During intake and in initial meetings, practitioners will walk clients through treatment plans and lay the groundwork for what they hope to achieve with the therapy. If EMDR is determined to be an appropriate fit, the client and therapist begin the preparation phase of the work, in which the client learns skills for regulation and coping. Once this phase is completed, the therapist and client identify specific target memories for desensitization, and the work then proceeds into memory reprocessing with the use of bilateral stimulation.

For all walks of life 

If Prince Harry’s support for EMDR shows anything, it is that this therapy approach works for people that come from all walks of life. The World Health Organization and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have both recommended EMDR for all age ranges, including children. It has been an effective therapy for children who have suffered abuse, soldiers who are experiencing PTSD, adults who have lost a parent, or older adults grappling with latent traumatic experiences from their youth.

Essentially, what EMDR effectively does is unlock the power of the nervous system. For reasons not quite understood by experts, the human nervous system can store traumatic experiences and memories in ways that can be downright damaging to the psyche. Reprocessing these feelings and unlocking the power of the nervous system’s ability to release these stored experiences is the end goal of EMDR therapy. 

By using a model known as  Adaptive Information Processing (AIP), EMDR can “unstick” looping messages and thoughts that have resulted in undesirable physical and psychological symptoms for patients. And by using sight, sound, and touch to stimulate the brain, known as Bilateral Stimulation (BI), EMDR ultimately leads to a calming of ruminating thoughts and traumatic memories, thereby calming the ‘storm’ of symptoms.

The way therapists work with patients with EMDR may vary, and each patient may bring unique needs to the table, such as the experience of being a member of the Royal Family, for example. EMDR is a therapy that can be tailored and modified to meet a client’s individual cultural, developmental, and neurodiverse needs. No two clients are the same, and EMDR is a therapy that is used across all ages and all continents.  

In his “The Me You Can’t See” episode, Prince Harry explained he had been holding on to locational trauma from being in London. The things he had experienced there — including the death of his mother, Princess Diana — had created latent trauma that he was still dealing with years later. He credits EMDR with helping him “unstick” those thoughts about London, his mother’s death, and the trauma from living there.

Hearing Prince Harry speak about EMDR may have been the first time many people heard of the therapy practice. Now that a celebrity light has been shone on how beneficial the therapy can be, the door may be open for others to seek the therapy for themselves. 

Even though some clients have experienced temporary discomfort from dredging up old memories, the end result of being able to reframe those traumas is worth it to many. As Prince Harry told USA Today, “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.”  EMDR allows people to go back, identify harmful experiences, and process them in a healthy way to ultimately find healing.