There are calls for an unconventional treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder to be made more widely available to emergency services workers.

Key points:

Calls for EMDR to become available for emergency services workers

Unconventional therapy developed in 1980s and treats PTSD

Works by using eye movements to connect the emotional part of the brain to the cognitive

The relatively unknown therapy called EMDR, or eye movement desensitising and reprocessing, involves a psychologist waving a finger in front of a patient’s eyes while asking them to recall a traumatic memory.

Clinical psychologist Graham Taylor said it used eye movements similar to those in slow-wave sleep to help patients better cope with trauma.

[The eye movement] causes pathways to start connecting between the emotional part of the brain and the part of the brain that can think more usefully,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the memory becomes more distant, it’s no longer in your face, but it’s a far away memory.

“The distress diminishes and a person can think about themselves more adaptively rather than having the old thoughts associated with the trauma.”


EMDR was developed in the 1980s and was initially controversial among psychologists due to a lack of evidence.

After dozens of psychological studies showing its effectiveness and an endorsement by the World Health Organisation in 2013, the treatment has gained popularity, particularly among professions which regularly deal with trauma.

Therapy a success for Perth woman after husband’s suicide Perth woman Amanda Devine underwent the therapy after losing her husband to suicide on a family cruise ship holiday in 2013. Her husband Bill had worked as an ambulance officer for 20 years, dealing with trauma, grief and threats to his personal safety. Ms Devine said those experiences gradually took a toll on a man who had loved life. “He did change, he became more escalated, he became easily upset and overwhelmed at times by what was happening in society and the jobs that he was having to attend,” she said. She said ultimately the stress became too much.

“I never really ever thought and I never ever got any information from St John’s or anywhere else that suicide was a possible outcome… and is higher in emergency medical first responders,” she said. “And I never thought he would do something like that.” After her husband’s suicide, a trauma counsellor recommended Amanda Devine try EMDR. It took about 10 sessions, but eventually gave her some relief. Now, she wishes her husband had had access to it. “It somehow allows you to process that pain and then learn from it. And by learning from it, you can store it away and bring it up again later when you need to.”


PTSD ‘epidemic’ in emergency services workers.  Lyn Sinclair is a former ambulance officer who now runs a support group for first responders called Sirens of Silence. She said PTSD was a major problem in professions like paramedics “It’s starting to really show that there is a real issue with PTSD in particular, there’s a lot of anxiety,” she said. Former paramedic Lyn Sinclair says PTSD is becoming an epidemic. (ABC) “We feel there is a bit of an epidemic in the emergency services where there is a huge need for more help and support.” She said she believed EMDR could be part of the solution. Overseas it’s widely used, it’s widely accepted,” she said.  “It’s obviously something fairly new and I suppose some people might see it as a bit radical, but it’s in reality a non-invasive therapy and we’ve seen great results.” While proponents have pushed for the unconventional therapy to become more widely available, a limited number of psychologists have trained to practice it because it is not a standard part of a psychology degree.

Graham Taylor said  “If people had access to this sort of therapy, it would significantly reduce the incidence of PTSD,” he said. “You could deal with those traumas as they occur and you wouldn’t get that accumulation that leads to significant mental health problems.”



EMDR: The unconventional therapy treating post-traumatic stress disorder with the wave of a finger