EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and is a method of therapy developed by clinical psychologist Dr Francine Shapiro.
EMDR was originally developed in the 1980s for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in war veterans. Since then it has been used to effectively treat a wide range of mental health issues.
Although EMDR works with memories, the goal of EMDR is not to change or erase a memory. The memories are still there, but they are less intense. You are less troubled by experiences from the past.
What happens when you are traumatised?
Most of the time your body routinely manages new information and experiences without you being aware of it. However, when something out of the ordinary occurs and you are traumatised by an overwhelming event (e.g. a car accident) or by being repeatedly subjected to distress (e.g. childhood neglect), your natural coping mechanism can become overloaded. This overloading can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in your brain or being “unprocessed”.
Such unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in the limbic system of your brain in a “raw” and emotional form, rather than in a verbal “story” mode. This limbic system maintains traumatic memories in an isolated memory network that is associated with emotions and physical sensations, and which are disconnected from the brain’s cortex where we use language to store memories. The limbic system’s traumatic memories can be continually triggered when you experience events similar to the difficult experiences you have been through. Often the memory itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger or despair are continually triggered in the present.
Your ability to live in the present and learn from new experiences can therefore become inhibited. EMDR helps create the connections between your brain’s memory networks, enabling your brain to process the traumatic memory in a very natural way.
What is an EMDR session like?
EMDR utilises the natural healing ability of your body. After a session or two of assessment (talking), you will be asked more specific questions about particular memories that are meaningful to you and that you would feel comfortable working on.
Eye movements similar to what you experience in REM sleep, will be recreated by simply asking you to watch the therapists fingers moving backwards and forwards from left to right. The eye movements will last for a short while and then stop.
As the eye movements are repeated, the memory tends to change in such a way that it loses its painful intensity and simply becomes a neutral memory of an event in the past.
After a few sessions, EMDR can produce noticeable changes with regards to thoughts, emotions and body sensations in the here and now.
In EMDR, you stay fully in control and you are alert and wide-awake. You can stop the process at any time.
And remember, the goal of EMDR is not to change or erase a memory, but to reduce the intensity of the memories.
Who is EMDR helpful for?
EMDR is a wonderful addition to talking therapy.
It can help people who have experienced or do experience:
- Fears and panic attacks
- Depression / negative thoughts about themselves / Self-esteem issues
- Significant challenges in childhood and adulthood. Examples might be bullying, parental divorce, loss of a job, financial strain, etc
- Complicated grief – death or loss of an important person
- Exam anxiety
To self-refer to these services, please complete the form on the contact us page. We look forward to working with you.