What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful psychological treatment method. It combines eye movements with other interventions, to treat a number of issues such as phobias, anxiety, low self-esteem, trauma, and distress. It is natural, safe, rapid, and very effective. As a NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) and WHO (World Health Organisation) recommended treatment, it has been taken up in recent years by numerous therapeutic services, including the NHS, the emergency services, Higher Education, the police and the armed forces.
A wealth of research has been conducted demonstrating its benefits in treating trauma arising from experiences as diverse as adverse childhood experiences, war related stress, childhood abuse, natural disaster, assault, surgical trauma, road traffic accidents and workplace accidents. Moreover, it has shown to be effective in treating the misuse of substances, including ‘street’ drugs, alcohol and nicotine.
Since its original development, EMDR has also been increasingly used to help individuals address psychological issues which hinder them to achieve peak performance, e.g. in sports, performing arts, public speaking, and business presentations.
When a person is involved in a distressing situation or environment, they may feel overwhelmed and their brain may be unable to process the information like a normal memory. The distressing memory becomes frozen on a neurological level. This can manifest itself in intrusive thoughts, disturbing dreams, distressing flashbacks, avoidance of reminders, or simply in being bothered now by something in the past. If there are no clear memories to recall it can still work.
During EMDR, the client is shown eye movements, similar to the rapid eye movement (REM) that occur naturally whilst in dream sleep. Sometimes sounds or tapping are also used. This alternating left-right stimulation of the brain seems to activate the frozen or blocked information processing system. In the process the distressing memories lose their intensity and become more like ‘ordinary’ memories.
The effect is believed to be similar to that which occurs naturally during REM sleep, when deep neurological processing takes place. EMDR helps reduce the distress of all kinds of memories, whether it was what you saw, heard, smelt, tasted, felt or thought.
This means that a person’s trauma-related symptoms can be completely relieved in a very short space of time. Moreover, this change is permanent once processed, the traumatic experience has lost its power to distress.