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 - What is EMDR?

What is EMDR?

WWTW Clinical Lead, Carolyn, explores EMDR as a form of therapy

We often hear EMDR being discussed or recommended but what is it?

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic approach that uses bi lateral stimulation to aid the processing of distressing information and memories. Eye movements are the main form of bilateral stimulation used for EMDR. This is achieved with hand movements, or a light tube. Alternatively, aural stimuli with the use of headphones or pulsators for tactile stimuli are used. It is effective in treating trauma and is recommended by NICE for PTSD. (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). EMDR is also used to treat depression and anxiety as well as other mental health conditions. It was developed by an American psychologist Francine Shapiro. 

Unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in the limbic system of the brain and can be triggered when experiencing events similar to the difficult experiences an individual has gone through. The memory itself is often forgotten but the painful feelings such as panic, anger despair and anxiety are being triggered in the present time.  EMDR helps to create connections between the brain’s memory networks enabling the brain to process a painful memory in a natural way. Therapists would explain to their client how EMDR works and would also offer various self-soothing and safe place exercises prior to beginning treatment. 

There has been quite a bit of research to validate the effectiveness of EMDR. The evidence suggests that EMDR is not effective in individuals with military combat related trauma, and this is reflected within the NICE guidelines. However, there is limited evidence and study around EMDR and this cohort of individuals.

Further Reading:

Shapiro F (2001) Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing:  Basic Principles, Protocols and Procedures (2nd ed). Guildford Press

Shapiro F (2012) Getting Past Your Past: Take control of our life with self help techniques from EMDR therapy. Macmillan

Do you think you could benefit from this form of therapy? Find out more about our Head Start programme here