Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful psychological therapy that helps people to heal from the impact of traumatic or disturbing life events. EMDR has received a lot of attention for helping millions of people heal from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from traumatic events such as rape, sexual abuse, road traffic accidents and combat; however, EMDR can also help people who are experiencing distress resulting from other disturbing events, such as divorce, life transitions, grief and anxiety.
When a person experiences a life event as emotionally overwhelming, he/she may struggle to integrate that incident into their experience. Physical sensations, emotions, thoughts, and images associated with the event become “frozen in time”, and without treatment, may lead to distressing symptoms and behaviours.
EMDR seems to activate the brain’s inherent information processing system, enabling it to integrate the information that got stuck at the time of the distressing event. EMDR does not erase the memory, but rather reduces the emotional charge, so that the person can remember the event without becoming overwhelmed. After successful EMDR therapy, the person will often feel lighter, freer and more whole.
Origins and credentials
EMDR was developed by an American clinical psychologist, Dr Francine Shapiro, in the 1980s. As a Senior Research Fellow at the Mental Research Institute, she published the first research data to support the benefits of the therapy in the 1989. Since then a wealth of research has been conducted demonstrating its benefits in treating psychological trauma arising from experiences as diverse as war related experiences, childhood sexual and/or physical abuse or neglect, natural disaster, assault, surgical trauma, road traffic accidents and workplace accidents.
Dr Shapiro discusses the current research evidence for EMDR in the New York Times (March 2012). You can read the article here.
What happens in EMDR?
A few sessions will be spent on history-taking and preparation before any disturbing memories are processed, and a treatment plan will be formulated.
You will then be asked to recall a target memory, and eye movements will be recreated by asking you to watch the therapist’s fingers moving right to left across your visual field. The eye movements will last for a short while and then stop. You will then be asked to report back on what you are experiencing now, with regard to changes in thoughts, images, feelings or body sensations.
With repeated sets of eye movements, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and becomes a neutral memory of an event in the past. Other associated memories may also heal at the same time. This linking of related memories can lead to a dramatic and rapid improvement in many aspects of your life.
If you have a medical condition that makes eye movements difficult or impossible for you, other forms of bilateral stimulation can be used, such as auditory beeps or tapping on the hands.
Julia Scott has 7 years’ experience in EMDR and is trained to level 3 of 3. She is a member of the EMDR Association, UK & Ireland and attends regular supervision, peer groups and workshops. She is working towards accreditation as an EMDR practitioner.
Julia offers EMDR for the treatment of trauma symptoms, anxiety, panic attacks, phobias and performance anxiety. If you are struggling with any of the above, or if you are experiencing current difficulties as a consequence of a past distressing event, please ask about EMDR. You can read more about EMDR on Julia’s EMDR website.