What is EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy. EMDR has a solid evidence base to help a wide range of people who have

…suffered trauma that has not been adequately processed, for example war veterans, people who have been involved in a road traffic accident or

…people who have been attacked and are since suffering from post-trauma type symptoms e.g. flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, severe anxiety.

The aim of the therapy is to help you process this troubling event(s) so that it no longer contains the same power over you or gives you unwanted symptoms. You will discuss past events, although not in a great amount of detail and not for any great length of time. With your therapist, you will work back and forth between the event(s) and the ‘here and now’. The brain should then begin to re-process the event in a more productive way for your well-being.

How does EMDR work?

Often when something traumatic happens it seems to get locked in our brains with the original picture, sounds, thoughts and feelings. This can be the basis for a lot of discomfort and sometimes a lot of negative emotions such as fear and helplessness. The eye movements that are used in EMDR seem to unlock the nervous system and allow your brain to process the experience. The important thing to remember is that your own brain will be doing the healing and that you are the one in control.

How many sessions of EMDR should it take to feel better?

Whilst there is not an exact formula for the number of sessions, it tends to take between 6 and 8 sessions. The sessions last for 50 to 90 minutes.

What are the benefits of EMDR over other types of therapy such as CBT?

Whilst different types of therapy can suit people in different ways, the main advantage of EMDR is that it that there are fewer sessions. It is similar to CBT in terms of therapeutic goals i.e. EMDR aims to reduce the subjective distress and strengthen adaptive thoughts and coping mechanisms related to the traumatic event.

EMDR will often take place within a CBT framework, and your therapist may well use CBT or other therapeutic techniques in addition to the EMDR.

What actually happens in an EMDR session?

The first couple of sessions usually involves taking a history of the problem and gives you time to get to know your therapist so that you feel comfortable and safe. It will also involve your therapist explaining the theory and technique of the method to you so that you know what to expect.

The actual EMDR normally involves following your therapist’s fingers (or an electronic bar of light) with your eyes so that your eyes are moving quite rapidly from side to side whilst being encouraged to think about the original troubling event. This motion helps your brain process the event in a more adaptive way so that it becomes a lot less troubling when you recall it. There is not a lot of talking that takes place, it is your brain that is being encouraged to do the work. You can stop the process at any time if you feel uncomfortable.

What are some examples of the type of traumas that might be treated successfully by EMDR?

  • Experiences of war
  • Road traffic accidents or similar
  • Workplace accidents
  • Childhood abuse
  • Abuse or attack as an adult
  • Some phobias
  • Complex grief