What is EMDR?

POSTED ON 10/09/2020 IN About Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy that is designed to help people recover from traumatic events they have experienced in their lives.  It is a powerful and unique type of therapy that is still relatively new, but it has had some positive results and effects on people’s lives. In this blog post I will discuss what it is, what it’s used for, and how it works.

EMDR is based on the fact that sometimes when a person is involved in a traumatic event, they can feel overwhelmed resulting in their brain being unable to completely process what is happening. Due to this, the memory of the event becomes stuck, and therefore remains very vivid and intense. Whenever the memory resurfaces, this results in a person re-experiencing what they witnessed, including what they saw, smelt, and heard, and experiencing the full extent of the distress they went through.

The aim of EMDR is to help the brain to unstick and reprocess the memory in order for it to no longer be so intense. The therapy also helps the person to become desensitised to the emotional impact remembering the event brings with it, which allows for them to then be able to think about it without experiencing the vivid and intense feelings they previously had.

EMDR has been found to reduce the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as it helps people recover from the problems that are triggered from experiencing traumatic events. The therapy stops the difficult memories that cause a person a large amount of distress by helping their brain to reprocess the memories properly thereby stopping the distressing symptoms of PTSD.

The therapy involves the person recalling the traumatic event while they make side-to-side eye movements, usually by following the movement of the therapist’s finger, but other methods can include the tapping of a finger or playing a tone. EMDR works by the side-to-side sensations effectively stimulating the stuck processing system within the brain in order for it to reprocess the traumatic event, which then reduces the emotional impact it has.

A clear reason for EMDR being effective has not been found, but it is thought that it helps a person change the negative way they think about the traumatic event they have experienced. Certain research has put forward that it is effective because concentrating on another task whilst the brain is processing the memory of the traumatic event allows for it to carry out more work. While the brain is focused on something else when processing the memory, it then becomes less vivid. From this process, the person can begin to distance themselves from it and start to remember the event in a more manageable way.

As well as PTSD, EMDR can also help with many other mental health conditions that affect people of all ages, such as anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), self-esteem and confidence issues, complicated grief, phobias, addiction, performance anxiety, medical trauma, and mood disorders. The therapy is especially helpful for when a difficult life event has been involved with these, such as being in a car accident, or experiencing bullying, abuse or a violent crime.

Due to it being a complex process, EMDR should always be carried out by trained therapists, and depending on the individual circumstances, the number of sessions needed can vary, but sometimes just a couple of sessions can produce good results. EMDR can be used on its own or alongside other sessions where talking therapies are used. EMDR has been around for just over thirty years, but from researching it, it seems like a positive addition to the therapies that deal with traumatic memories, and one that has the potential to be very effective. Please look at the links within the references section for more details on this therapy, including research that has been carried out into it.


Sarah Keeping 

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach


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