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Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Although EMDR might sound like a new-age therapy, it has been widely used in the military for many years as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) It is a very straightforward yet powerful therapy and it is recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE, as an evidence-based therapy for PTSD. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, which basically means it helps you to change raw and painful traumatic memories into ones which are more manageable, historic and do not continue to dominate your daily life.

EMDR can be very effective if you’ve got a problem which stems from a traumatic experience. This includes anxiety, phobias and depression. It’s all about how the human brain deals with thoughts and feelings associated with trauma. Feelings such as panic, guilt, anger, terror and fear can be difficult to process and, as a result, any association or reminder of an event, however small, can trigger those emotions. This can lead to people feeling out of control of their reactions and feelings, which can then lead to them to avoid work, other people, relationships or any reminders of the event.

Unlike other forms of psychotherapy, EMDR is not primarily a talking therapy; instead it helps your brain to reprocess distressing memories or flashbacks. It does this by speeding up the body’s natural healing process using bilateral stimulation; a process which is thought to replicate what happens during the REM stage of sleep

( At this point in our sleep cycle, our whole body is temporarily paralysed except for the eye muscles, which are observed to be constantly moving from side to side. It is widelybelieved that during this stage of sleep we process the emotions and memories of that day so that we don’t have to keep thinking about them over and over again. It’s like those times when you’ve gone to bed with a problem and when you’ve woken up in the morning, it feels so much more manageable.

EMDR is not hypnosis and does not put anything into your brain. It simply helps you to use the internal resources you already have to resolve the problem. Each half of the brain contains different types of resources (e.g. emotional processes and rational processes) so EMDR helps these to link up more effectively and resolve any problems. What can happen with trauma is that it overloads the body’s coping mechanisms and can then get stuck in the form of emotional and physical memories. EMDR allows both sides of the brain to communicate about the issue, remove blockages and find a solution. As a result, the trauma can reach a place where it feels more resolved and manageable.

In an EMDR session, you will spend most of your time focusing on the traumatic memory whilst your therapist stimulates both sides of your brain. Traditionally, this is done by following the therapist’s hand from side to side with your eyes whilst allowing yourself to remember the details of the trauma. However, later research has found that the therapy is equally effective using any method which stimulates the nerves on both the left and right sides of the body. This means that your therapist might tap your knees, ask you to listen to sounds through headphones or get you to hold vibrating tappers in your hands. At the same time, your therapist will help you to think about the trauma in a safe and structured way. Finally, you will be able to replace your negative thoughts with more positive ones.

EDMR is particularly suited to people who don’t like talking about their trauma as the main aim is to let your body bring up, process and release any thoughts, emotions or physical feelings about the trauma. You are taught how to manage any distressing feelings which might arise both within and between sessions.

The great thing about EDMR is it facilitates the body’s natural healing process so you are helping yourself to become free of the trauma in a non-intrusive way. It can also start to work quite quickly in many people, depending on the severity and complexity of the trauma and how motivated you are to tackle it. Always check that your therapist has undergone accredited EMDR training. You can find qualified therapists on the EMDR UK & Europe website: