EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing.  It is a unique, powerful therapy that helps people recover from problems triggered by traumatic events in their lives. Due to strong research evidence of its effectiveness, EMDR is recognised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a treatment of choice for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

How EMDR works

EMDR is a therapy used to help people recover from distressing events and the problems they have caused, like flashbacks, upsetting thoughts or images, depression or anxiety. Due to the way trauma interferes with normal information processing in the brain, trauma survivors feel stuck in the disturbing memories from the past, experiencing ongoing distress in the here and now. EMDR removes the distress and gets the trauma survivor unstuck again by helping the brain to reprocess these events properly. 

What happens during EMDR sessions?

The therapist will always firstly carry out a careful psychological assessment to determine whether EMDR would be suitable for you and the problem presented. Then you will be taught calming and coping strategies so that you can manage distress in the sessions and on your own. You will also be taught the practicalities such as eye movements, tapping, and how they are elicited. In the following sessions, when the actual trauma processing starts, you will bring up a memory representing the problem.  You will be asked for a picture that best represents the memory, a negative belief that you have about yourself in relation to the memory, and to notice associated feelings and bodily sensations.  This is how the disturbing memory network becomes ‘activated’ so it can be worked on. Thereafter, a number of sets of eye movements are commenced, and after each set of these you will be asked what you noticed. At first, the images, emotions, and sensations experienced may feel random and fragmented, but this starts shifting through the sets.  While you continue reprocessing the emerging old fragments of information through the sets, the shifts start evolving into something more coherent. Parallel with this, you will be connecting with presently held realistic and functional information, up until this point inaccessible to the brain as the consequence of traumatisation.  As the result of this, at the end of successful treatment the painful experiences stop hurting without being forgotten. Instead, once a painful memory loses its emotional charge it is experienced mentally and physically for what it really is - the past. Not an ongoing threat any more, but just another chronologically tagged event in your biographical catalogue, ‘Yes, that too happened to me once upon a time …’

For more information, please visit EMDR UK & Ireland Association