What is EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing)

EMDR is a form of psychotherapy that was developed to resolve symptoms resulting from disturbing and unresolved life experiences.

It uses a structured approach to address past, present, and future aspects of disturbing memories. The approach was developed by Francine Shapiro to resolve the development of trauma-related disorders as resulting from exposure to a traumatic or distressing event, such as rape or military combat.  The therapy has since moved on and been found to be successful with other types of disorders and personal “blocks”.

Evidence suggests that for many clients EMDR can significantly shorten the length of treatment and enhance results far beyond the scope of being involved in talking therapy alone. The reason for this is that emotional wounds are located in a more primitive part of the brain that is not accessible to language.

How does it work?

At the time of a traumatic event, strong emotions interfere with our ability to completely process the experience and one moment becomes “frozen in time.”  Recalling the traumatic event may feel as though the person is reliving the event all over again because the images, smells, sounds, and feelings are still there and can be triggered in the present.  

When activated, these memories cause a negative impact on our daily functioning and interfere with the way we see ourselves, our world and how we relate to others.  EMDR therapy appears to directly affect the brain, allowing the individual to resume normal functioning while no longer reliving the images, sounds, and feelings associated with the trauma.  The memory is still there, but it is less upsetting.

It appears that using rapid eye movements relieves the anxiety associated with the trauma so that the original event can be examined from a more detached perspective, somewhat like watching a movie of what happened. Some experts have noted that the eye movements involved in EMDR might be similar to what occurs naturally during dreaming or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  

It may be thought of as a physiologically based therapy that allows a person to see material in a new and less distressing way.  Others believe it reactivates parts of the brain that were “shut down” as a coping mechanism. In this way cognitive reorganizing takes place, allowing the negative, painful emotions to give way to more resolved, empowered feelings.

Key Benefits:

  • EMDR often resolves emotional disturbances and trauma where other therapies have failed
  • EMDR is effective for most anxiety based disorders
  • EMDR should not be confused with hypnotherapy
  • EMDR is a client led therapy and always remains within the control of the client
  • EMDR is capable of rapid results

Conditions suitable for therapy:

EMDR is particularly suitable for the treatment of the following conditions:

  • Trauma (resulting from accidents, disasters and emotional distress)
  • Bereavement
  • Addiction and substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Phobias
  • Abuse (verbal, physical and sexual)
  • Self esteem issues