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About EMDR

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) is a form of psychotherapy developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1987 in the United States. It has gained widespread acceptance as one of the preferred treatments for PTSD in adults, endorsed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines. Additionally, scientific research on using EMDR with children and adolescents is continuously expanding.

The premise behind EMDR is that when an individual experiences a traumatic event, the memory of that trauma can become neurologically "frozen," preventing the brain from properly processing it. If this traumatic memory remains unprocessed, certain triggers like smells, sounds, images, or feelings can easily resurface it, causing the individual to re-experience the distressing event. Nightmares and flashbacks are also common occurrences that keep the traumatic memory alive.

EMDR aims to unblock these frozen, disturbing memories by stimulating the brain with bilateral movements, such as side-to-side eye movements, alternating taps, or sounds. This stimulation is thought to mimic the brain's natural information processing that occurs during certain stages of sleep, like REM (rapid eye movement) when dreaming takes place. By facilitating this processing, EMDR helps the brain to adaptively integrate the traumatic memory, alleviating the associated distress.

Understanding Trauma

Normally, our brains are very good at processing everyday experiences and integrating new information as it comes in. However, when something extremely traumatic happens like a serious accident or abuse, it can overwhelm the brain's natural coping ability.

Instead of being properly processed, the disturbing memories and feelings associated with the traumatic event get stuck or "frozen" in an emotional part of the brain called the limbic system. These raw, unprocessed trauma memories get stored with all the intense emotions and physical sensations that were felt at the time.

The problem is that these stuck trauma memories don't get integrated with the parts of the brain that help make sense of experiences through language and logic. So the traumatic memories remain disconnected and unprocessed.

Then, something as minor as a smell, sound or sensation can trigger those isolated trauma memories, making you suddenly re-experience the original panic, anxiety, anger or despair - even if you can't consciously remember the details of the traumatic event itself.

This disconnected, unprocessed state prevents you from fully moving on and living in the present. EMDR therapy helps create the missing links between the stuck trauma memories and the more rational parts of your brain. This allows your brain to finally process and integrate the traumatic experiences in a healthy, adaptive way - relieving the distressing emotional charge and allowing for more complete healing.


"The speed with which change occurs during EMDR contradicts the traditional notion of time as essential for psychological healing."

Dr. Francine Shapiro, the developer of EMDR

What Happens in an EMDR Session?

EMDR therapy harnesses your body's innate ability to heal itself. After a thorough assessment, I will guide you to focus on a specific disturbing memory. I will then recreate the eye movements that naturally occur during REM sleep by having you watch my finger or hand move horizontally across your field of vision. Alternatively, I may use a light bar or headphones that produce bilateral tones.

These side-to-side eye movements last for a brief period before stopping. After each set, you'll describe any changes in thoughts, images, emotions or physical sensations you experienced during that time. The memory you're targeting often transforms through this process, losing its intense painful charge.

With repeated sets of eye movements, the traumatic memory tends to become neutralised - simply an impartial recollection of a past event. Remarkably, other associated memories may also start to heal simultaneously. This linking and reprocessing of related memories can catalyse rapid, profound improvements across many aspects of your life.

The eye movements in EMDR seem to facilitate your brain's inherent information processing abilities. This allows your mind to naturally integrate and resolve the trapped, unprocessed traumatic memories in an organic, healing manner.

Applications of EMDR

Besides treating PTSD, EMDR has been successfully used for:

  • Anxiety and panic attacks

  • Depression

  • Stress

  • Phobias

  • Sleep problems

  • Grief

  • Addictions

  • Pain relief, including phantom limb pain

  • Abuse

  • Neglect

  • PTSD and Complex PTSD

  • Eating disorders

  • Body image issues

  • Anger management

  • Self-esteem

  • Performance anxiety

Duration of Treatment

EMDR can be a short-term focused therapy or part of a longer therapeutic process. Weekly EMDR sessions typically last 60 to 90 minutes. For longer-standing or more complex issues, it can take several months or longer of regular EMDR sessions to fully reprocess and resolve the traumatic memories and associated disturbances.
EMDR intensive work can be useful for many people. This involves extended, consecutive therapy sessions lasting several hours per day over multiple days to allow for immersive, focused reprocessing of traumatic memories using EMDR therapy techniques in an accelerated timeframe.

Will I Remain in Control During EMDR?

During EMDR, you remain in control, fully alert, and awake — it's not a form of hypnosis, and you can stop at any time. As your therapist I support and facilitate your self-healing, with minimal intervention. Reprocessing often feels spontaneous, with new insights and connections arising naturally. Many find EMDR to be a very empowering form of therapy.

Who Can Benefit from EMDR?

EMDR can accelerate therapy by resolving the impact of your past traumas, allowing you to live more fully in the present. While EMDR can accelerate recovery from past traumas and enhance present living, it may not be suitable for everyone. It's important to be prepared for the possibility of experiencing strong emotions, physical sensations and disturbing thoughts during treatment. However, the process is generally rapid, and any disturbing experiences during sessions are typically short-lived.

Evidence of EMDR's Effectiveness

EMDR has been validated through extensive research, with many controlled studies establishing its reliability and effectiveness in treating trauma. It is endorsed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as an effective PTSD treatment. 

For more information, visit EMDR Association UK

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