Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful psychological therapy that helps people to heal from the impact of traumatic or disturbing life events such as rape, abuse, road traffic accidents and combat. It can can also be helpful in resolving distress resulting from other upsetting events.
How does EMDR work?
As with any form of psychotherapy, we can’t yet be completely sure how EMDR works in the brain. However, we do know that when a person is overwhelmed by a distresing event, their brain cannot process information as it normally does. The event can become frozen in time, so that when remembering it, the person feels as if they are reliving it, because the images, sounds, smells, and body sensations haven’t changed. Such memories can have a lasting negative effect which interferes with the way a person sees the world and the way they relate to other people.
EMDR seems to activate the brain’s inherent adaptive information processing system, enabling it to process the information that got stuck at the time of the distressing event. EMDR does not erase the memory, but reduces the emotional charge, so that the person can remember the event without becoming overwhelmed. Often during EMDR, the person will gain helpful insights, and at the end of successful EMDR therapy, will feel lighter, freer and more whole.
Origins and credentials
EMDR was developed in the 1980s by an American clinical psychologist, Dr Francine Shapiro. A wealth of research has since been conducted, demonstrating its benefits in treating psychological trauma arising from a wide range of experiences, including war related experiences, childhood sexual or physical abuse, natural disaster, assault, surgical trauma and road traffic accidents.
These studies have consistently found that EMDR effectively decreases/eliminates the symptoms of past traumatic stress for the majority of clients.