What is EMDR?
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) aims to reduce the distressing memories following a traumatic event. EMDR was originally developed to treat adults with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) however, it is also used to treat other conditions which are thought to arise out a significant past event. EMDR is known to successfully treat:
- performance anxiety
- phobias and fears
- low self-esteem
Sometimes, a distressing or traumatic memory can surface itself in the mind as if the original event is happening all over again. A person can re-experience images, sensations and thoughts experienced many years previously. And sometimes, no matter how much a person wants to move on with their lives, the event replays itself again and again uninvited and can be overwhelming and intense.
Sometimes these events emerge as flashbacks or nightmares. Sometimes it is more subtle. An everyday happening can recall the trauma and the individual reports that they have behaved disproportionately and seeming uncontrollably to the confusion of themselves and others.
Trauma therapies help individuals process memories and the sights, sounds, smells, thoughts and feelings which are ‘stuck’ in the past and triggered by harmless happenings in the present. While these unpleasant memories cannot be erased, Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) can help the experiences become ‘unstuck’ to store them like ordinary memories which cause less distress.
EMDR works by alternating left-right stimulation of the brain with eye movements, sounds or taps. This simulates what happens naturally during REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement).
Frequently Asked Questions
EMDR East London
What will happen in an EMDR therapy session?
Before EMDR treatment begins, your therapist will talk you through the theory, answering any questions you may have. At this point your therapist will spend some time going through relaxation exercises (these may include guided meditations or breathing techniques) to utilise during the treatment and during times of stress outside of your sessions. Therapists refer to this second phase as preparation.
At this point you will be led through phases three to six. You will now target specific distressing memories with eye movements or other forms of left-right stimulation such as taps or sounds. To start with you will be asked to select an image to represent the event and then to think about positive and negative thoughts, the amount of distress you feel and where you feel it in your body. Your therapist will then use bilateral eye movements (or taps or sounds) in a series of ‘sets’ lasting around 25 seconds. After each set, you will be asked for feedback on your experience during the preceding set, before starting the eye movements again. Your therapist may also ask you to recall the orginal memory and ask you how it seems to you now. This will continue until your distress has cleared (or is reduced as much as possible) and you are experiencing more positive thoughts and feelings.
The seventh phase is known as closure and it offers you time to feel calm again using the relaxation exercises you learnt at the beginning of the session. Finally, the eighth phase is called re-evaluation – and this is effectively the first step in your next session.
Is EMDR hypnosis?
EMDR is not considered a form of hypnosis. You will remain fully conscious and aware at all times during your session and you will have total control over what is happening. If at any point you feel uncomfortable or unable to continue – simply make your therapist aware.
How many sessions will I need?
We would advise an absolute minimum of six sessions. However, this would need to be discussed with your therapist and reviewed throughout your treatment. EMDR is a powerful therapeutic tool and the effects could be active between sessions. It is therefore also important that you are able to commit to at least one session a week.
How are eye movements encouraged? Or what if I have eye difficulties and can not make rapid eye movements?
The therapist helps guide the speed on your eye movements by using a ‘light bar’ and asking you to follow a light on it which will move back and forth across your visual field. If for whatever reason it is decided not to use eye movements, bilateral stimulation can be created through sound or touch. You could be asked to wear headphones which generate clicks alternating from left to right or small hand-held vibrating pads which buzz alternately from one hand to another.
In her own words
Counselling Psychologist & Psychotherapist
I am a chartered counselling psychologist and registered psychotherapist. I have had specialist Level 3 training in EMDR. This therapy can be really beneficial to clients with historical as well as more recent trauma. Sometimes traumatic events can become stuck psychologically and become symptoms such as panic, obsession compulsion, depression and anxiety. My doctoral thesis was on adult survivors of childhood trauma. This work lead to me becoming interested in EMDR as a technique that I could bring to clients to help them recover more fully from traumatic events. EMDR can in some cases bring relief from traumatic symptoms far quicker than traditional talking therapies. You can read a longer profile on me by clicking here.