EMDR (Eye Movement, Desensitisation & Reprocessing)

EMDR is a versatile therapy and can be used to help with:

  • Trauma, including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Addiction
  • Performance anxiety (eg. exams, work-related tasks, public speaking)
  • Excessive grief
  • Illness and Psychosomatic disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Anxiety
  • Low Self-esteem
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Phobias and panic attacks
  • Sleep disorders

EMDR is a method of trauma therapy developed in the late 1980s by clinical psychologist Dr Francine Shapiro. It is widely held as one of the most successful methods of treating trauma and "frozen" memories that can have a negative impact on a person's sense of well-being. Trauma can be at the bottom of many negative and destructive thought patterns and behaviours. It may impact upon addiction, underlie sleep problems, and trigger physical illnesses. Our bodies carry the emotional memory of our life events at a cellular level. The cells, the organs and the body as a whole may then respond to these trapped negative emotions.

What is trauma?

Most of us think that trauma is caused by a large scale or catastrophic event such as a war, surviving a natural disaster, (such as a tsunami or an earthquake) or some form of serious abuse, but by dictionary definition trauma is any event that has had a lasting negative effect.

This opens up the possibilty that many people will have suffered some form of trauma in their lives, and may still be suffering because of it. What may be normal and harmless for one person can be shocking and traumatic for another; it is a very individual and personal matter. Even common or seemingly "not unusual" events can be experienced as traumatic; for example a child might witness their parents arguing and physically attacking each other; a student may be beaten, humiliated or bullied at school, an employee may be continually ignored or made to feel foolish and stupid. This can be devastating. The sufferer may continue to carry around the painful, negative feelings that they experienced during that time, and this will have an impact on their thoughts, feelings and behaviours in the present.

How does EMDR work?

As we continually experience things our minds generally process the information in a way that will help us. So, for example, if we touch a hot cooker we will register that it is hot and burns us, and learn not to do that again. In normal circumstances, when upsetting memories are processed we can transform the thoughts, related emotions and bodily responses into adaptive ones that will help us in our future lives.

In an healthy state of mind, when we need to work something out we can pull on a vast store of chronological memories that are networked together, and use these to figure out the best way to achieve what we desire; however, when we experience something we perceive as traumatic this processing is blocked and is not able to happen. Instead the memories are stored away, unprocessed in a way that is unrelated to time (i.e .we can relive the experience as if it were still real).

The body responds each time these memories are activated. This can be through very simple triggers, such as a rape victim seeing a man wearing a baseball cap just like the baseball cap worn by the man who raped them. Memories, thoughts, emotions and bodily feelings will come flooding back, old belief systems will be activated and old maladaptive patterns of behaviour will begin to manifest, almost always leading to severe negative consequences in the life of the suffering individual.

EMDR works by using bilateral stimulation (engaging both hemispheres of the brain through various forms of stimulation such as eye movements or tapping) to access the deeper store of unconscious memories and beliefs. The mind is as able to heal as the body, and is very quick to do so when given the right circumstances. Through bilateral stimulation, whilst concentrating on the traumatic, anxious or otherwise undesirable feelings, the body and mind are able, bit by bit, to uncover the deeper memories at the root of the current problems. It can then reprocess the painful, negative feelings attached to the memories in a healthy and appropriate way. Often a patient will remember things of great significance; events that they thought they had entirely forgotten. They can make momentous realisations that will alter the way they perceive themselves, bring about seismic shifts in their belief structures and trigger a complete overhaul of their relationship to their own past. They can, in this way, help to rid themselves of the unwanted 'ghosts" of their lives and be free to experience life-enhancing emotions and make more conscious decisions.