What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a rapid and effective way of treating trauma.  The reason it is so effective is because it is based on a natural healing ability whereby the mind heals itself during sleep, most notably during rapid eye movement.  Francine Shapiro developed EMDR in 1987 using this natural process in order to successfully treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Since then, it has been used as an effective treatment for a wide range of mental health problems.

When an individual is traumatised by an overwhelming event (e.g. an assault) or by repeatedly being subjected to distress (e.g. domestic violence), the natural coping mechanism becomes overloaded.  This can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in the brain or being “unprocessed”.

These unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in the limbic system of your brain in a “raw” and emotional form, rather than in a verbal “story” mode.  The limbic system maintains traumatic memories in an isolated memory network that is associated with emotions and physical sensations, which are disconnected from the brain’s cortex where language can be used to store memories.

The limbic system’s traumatic memories can be continually triggered when the individual then experiences situations that are similar to the original event.  Often the memory itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, despair, or anger are continually triggered in the present.  The individual’s ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can therefore become inhibited.  EMDR works by restoring the connections between the brain’s memory networks, enabling the brain to process the traumatic memory in a very natural way.

The EMDR technique helps to change the memory in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and becomes a neutral memory of an event in the past.  And, like a domino effect, other associated memories may also heal at the same time.  This linking of related memories can lead to dramatic improvements in many aspects of your life.  People experience EMDR as being a very empowering therapy because the new connections and insights are felt to arise quite naturally from within.

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, and it is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as an effective treatment for PTSD.