What is Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)?

If something traumatic has happened to you, you may relive this. This is the memory of your experience crashing back into your mind. This can force you to relive the original event with the same intensity of feeling – like it is taking place in the present moment. These can take the form of  flashbacks or nightmares. They are thought to occur because the mind was simply too overwhelmed during the event to process what was going on.

When traumatic events occur, the body’s natural coping mechanisms can be overwhelmed. Subsequently the memory and the accompanying sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings are inadequately processed and stored in wrong part of the brain. These ‘raw form’ memories can be activated each time we experience a trigger situation or recollection of the original event.

While it isn’t possible to erase these memories, the goal of EMDR therapy is to properly process these traumatic memories. This reduces their impact, the distress they cause and helps clients to develop better coping mechanisms. This is done through an eight-phase, evidence-based approach which addresses the past, present and future aspects of a stored memory. It requires clients to recall distressing events while receiving bilateral sensory input, including:

  • side-to-side eye movements
  • hand tapping
  • auditory tones

The eight phases of EMDR are as follows:

  1. History and treatment planning
  2. Preparation, to establish trust and explain the treatment in-depth
  3. Assessment, to establish negative feelings and identify positive replacements
  4. Desensitisation, which includes the eye movement technique
  5. Installation, to strengthen positive replacements
  6. Body scan, to see if the client is now able to bring up memories of trauma without experiencing negative feelings that are no longer relevant, or if reprocessing is necessary
  7. Closure, which occurs at the end of every session

What are the benefits?

Reported benefits of EMDR include:

  • A reduction in re-experiencing trauma memories
  • Coping better with improved management of trauma memories
  • Reduced avoidance of potential triggers
  • Reduced feelings of stress, anxiety, irritation and hyper-vigilance
  • Feeling more able to engage in relationships and enjoy pleasurable activities
  • Reduced feelings of isolation, hopelessness and depression
  • A boost in self-confidence and self-esteem

This allows you to rest more easily and go about your daily business without feeling fearful and prone to panic

What are the issues that can be addressed by EMDR?

A wide range of psychological difficulties, in particular those that originate in trauma can be treated by EMDR. This includes direct or indirect experiences of sexual assault, terror attack, accidents or natural disaster. These experiences often lead to a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis, for which EMDR has been recommended by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

It is also increasingly used to treat more prolonged, low-grade distress that originates in shock or loss in adult life and/or issues experienced during childhood.

EMDR therapy is also being used for the treatment of other issues including:

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EMDR featured on BBC Radio 4’s programme iPM. The programme told the story of a woman revisiting difficult experiences of being bullied in childhood. Listen to her story here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04jyv3y