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What is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)?

Updated: Jan 7

Imagine healing past trauma with an evidence based effective therapy. One in which you don't necessarily have to share every detail with your therapist. This is what EMDR offers.

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EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy. It is a talking therapy that is effective for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and distress linked to traumatic memories. EMDR is one of the recommended treatments for PTSD.

What does EMDR involve?

EMDR involves discussing past traumatic events and using movement in a structured way to assist the processing of past trauma. EMDR also looks at how past traumatic events are preventing you from achieving future goals. Your therapist will assess suitability for treatment. This is because trauma work can be complex and there are several different options when it comes to treating trauma. Your therapist will discuss the option they think will be suit your needs and explain why.

With your therapist you will decide what memories are best to work through. The aim of EMDR is to work through unprocessed trauma. EMDR targets negative beliefs, thoughts, physical symptoms and negative feelings associated with the past trauma that seem to have become stuck. EMDR will not lead you to completely forget the memory but the negative thoughts, feelings and emotions will lessen.

Sometimes in EMDR there will be techniques on how to manage distress prior to processing distressing memories to help you to be able to process the memories. This is because EMDR can trigger you to feel similar emotions to when you experienced the past event and its good to have tools to work through these emotions to assist processing.

In EMDR you will learn how past experiences are impacting you now, You will learn information about traumatic memories which will support you to understand your current experiences and why it can feel like the traumatic event is always there when it happened in the past.

In an EMDR session when you have the memory in your minds eye you will be asked what negative belief comes to mind and what positive belief you would like to think instead (no matter if currently the positive belief doesn't feel true). You will also be asked what emotion links with that event. Your EMDR therapist will ask you to engage in a form of bilateral stimulation whether this be eye movements, tapping, sounds or butterfly hugs whilst holding the traumatic event in mind. At certain points your therapists may change the frequency and pace of the bilateral stimulation to assist processing. Your therapist will ask you to give a snapshot of what's in your mind at certain times and will ask at times how distressing the memory feels now. The therapists will also ask about the positive cognition and if you feel it fits and will help install this through bilateral stimulation.

Your therapist will ask you to give you a snapshot of the trauma which means you do not have to share everything that is coming to your mind. This can be extremely helpful when talking about past traumatic events can feel overwhelming.

emdr treatment

EMDR Therapy does not involve talking about traumatic events in lots of detail and there are few inter session tasks. EMDR focuses on allowing the brain to go through its natural healing process. Processing in EMDR is not about talking and instead about creating the conditions for the natural healing process of your brain to take place using bilateral stimulation. You will be fully conscious during EMDR, the bilateral stimulation just aids the memory to be processed.

EMDR works best when you trust the process and let whatever memories and thoughts come to mind be without trying to rationalise or think about what memories thoughts and feelings you are experiencing.

What evidence is there that EMDR works?

There have been lots of studies that have demonstrated that EMDR is an effective treatment. Visit here for more details of the studies carried out. A lot of the research has been focused on EMDR as an effective treatment for PTSD but more evidence is emerging that demonstrates EMDR as effective treatment for other disorder including social anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive disorder (OCD) when those symptoms are linked to traumatic memories for example being bullied at school.

EMDR is a recommended treatment for PTSD in the NICE guidelines. The NICE guidelines are guidelines developed by looking at current research for each difficulty (which includes both physical health and mental health) and then using the research to offer recommendations for what should be the treatment of choice for each difficulty. To reach the NICE guidelines demonstrates there is lots of evidence for the effectiveness of EMDR.

emdr therapy

How does EMDR work

Research suggests that bilateral stimulation reduces the activation of the brain fear circuits which allow the memories to be processed.

EMDR is based on the principle that our bodies naturally want to heal. If we were to have a physical wound our body would try to heal and it is only if there is something preventing this, for example an infection that the body finds it difficult to heal. The same principle is thought to stand for emotional distress. Our mind wants to heal after traumatic events and EMDR helps anything that has been blocking this.

What can EMDR help with?

As EMDR helps process distressing memories it works great for PTSD but also for any distress linked to traumatic memories which could include social anxiety stemmed from specific memories, health anxiety and almost anything if it stemmed from specific memories. For example if you have fear of people judging you stemming from past bullying EMDR may be effective in lessening your fear of judgement from other people.

Want to find out more?

If you would like to see whether EMDR can help you please don’t hesitate to contact us here at Creatives at Mind. An assessment will help us to assess the therapy best suited to your needs.

Also visit the EMDR association for more information on EMDR and whether it is the right option for you.

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