Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

What is EMDR?

The mind can often heal itself naturally, in the same way as the body does. Much of this natural coping and healing occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Francine Shapiro developed Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in 1987, utilizing this natural process in order to successfully treat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Since then, EMDR has been used to effectively treat a wide range of mental health problems. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR helps to reorganize the library of how memories are stored in your brain. EMDR uses eye movement, bilateral alternating tapping or tones to help the brain “digest” distressing memories and allow them to be stored calmly in the past. The memories then rest in an area of the brain where they feel re-written and relegated to the past.

How does it work?

When we experience a traumatic event, our bodies can spin into a fight, flight or freeze responses where we can find ourselves feeling trapped in the memory and all the distressing feelings that go with the memory. Feeling trapped like this can create emotional and physical pain or distress. EMDR utiliszes the natural healing ability of your brain.

After a thorough assessment, you will be asked specific questions about the particular disturbing memory. Eye movements, similar to those during REM sleep, will be recreated simply by asking you to watch the therapist's finger moving backwards and forwards in front of your eyes. Sometimes, a bar of moving lights or headphones is used instead. The eye movements will last for a short while and then stop. You will then be asked to report back on the experiences you have had during each of these sets of eye movements. The experiences during a session may include changes in thoughts, images and feelings.

With repeated sets of eye movements, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory or 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.

(Ref: EMDR Basic Training Manual from British Columbia School of Professional Psychology. Revised 01-2018).

Is EMDR only effective for trauma or memories?

Although EMDR is found quite effective for the treatment of trauma but any other emotional issue/disturbing behavior can also be addressed through EMDR. EMDR is a symptom reduction approach. EMDR also integrates elements from other traditional therapies which help clients to focus on the issue from different angles or perspectives. In addition to its use for the treatment of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, EMDR has been successfully used to treat:

  • anxiety and panic attacks
  • depression
  • stress
  • phobias
  • sleep problems
  • complicated grief
  • addictions
  • pain relief, phantom limb pain
  • self-esteem
  • performance anxiety

What evidence is there that EMDR is a successful treatment?

EMDR is an innovative clinical treatment which has successfully helped over a million individuals. This therapy was first published in 1989. Numerous researches and studies have found EMDR very effective with long term and positive results. The validity and reliability of EMDR has been established by rigorous research. There are now nineteen controlled studies into EMDR making it the most thoroughly researched method used in the treatment of trauma, (Details on www.emdr-europe.org and www.emdr.org) and is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as an effective treatment for PTSD.

Are there any risks?

“There are many safety procedures built into the EMDR process, but EMDR can be a very intense emotional experience, temporarily. It is not appropriate for those who are unwilling or unable to tolerate highly disturbing emotions” (Ref: EMDR Basic Training Manual from British Columbia School of Professional Psychology. Revised 01-2018).

For additional answers to common questions, see Frequently Asked Questions.

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