What is EMDR?

Firstly, lets talk about psychological trauma.  It has been defined as a type of [psychological] damage as a result of a traumatic event (Wikipedia 2010) but it doesn’t always result in a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition where you can experience flashbacks or nightmares of the event and suffer high levels of emotion (anxiety or anger for example).

I liken a traumatic event to an experience which has left a damaging imprint on your view of the world and yourself in it, or something which has changed or altered the direction or course of your life.  This can be something from childhood such as constant criticism or a period of bullying or harrassment at work.  It could also be the illness or near death experience yourself or of a loved one but whatever it is, the impact has resulted in a change in the way you view yourself, your life, your future.  The event(s) may even confirm a view that you maybe once had and this view has returned tenfold.

Now lets talk about EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing.  It was discovered by chance by Francine Shapiro during her studies in America over 28 years ago and since has become more widely recognised and even advocated by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (www.nice.org.uk) for people with a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  However, it has also been used to help people with a range of other conditions such as:

  • panic attacks
  • complicated grief
  • disturbing memories
  • phobias
  • pain disorders
  • eating disorders
  • performance anxiety
  • sexual/physical abuse
  • body dysmorphia

We think it works in a similar way to REM sleep, the time it is thought when your brain is at it’s most active in processing information.  EMDR works through alternatively stimulating both sides of your brain, with eye movements or alternate sounds and vibrations, to activate the part of the brain that processes information. This is thought to help unblock this system which then helps to reduce all the associated distress of the memory of the event. So you may get changes to the picture, your thoughts about it, physical/bodily reactions and/or how you feel about it.  It’s a bit like pouring a very strong cleaner down a blocked drain.  Often people describe the memory as becoming blurred or fuzzy but mostly people talk about the change to how they now feel about what happened, that it no longer distresses them to think about it.