What is EMDR?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that is used to help people who are experiencing symptoms of trauma such as nightmares, flashbacks, or hyper-vigilance to threat.

When someone is suffering from these symptoms it is likely that the memory of the traumatic event has not been stored correctly in the mind and is stuck in the short term memory. This means that it can pop up unwanted and bring back the sights, sounds, feelings, and even smells from the original event.

EMDR has been found to be effective at helping the mind to process the traumatic event and move it in to the long term memory storage, so the event becomes more like a story, without all the unwanted feelings attached. As the name suggests, it uses eye movements to help process the distressing memory. This is where the kind of therapy differs from other more traditional talking therapies.

During a processing session, a specific memory would be targeted, and while focusing on say an image from that time, the therapist will ask the person to follow their hand with their eyes to create the eye movements. This will continue in short sets for some time and most clients report changes to the memory as it begins to process.

I remember an early client of my reporting at the end of a session how strange it was that she could still remember the event, but it no longer felt the same.

There is ongoing research into its uses in multiple conditions, and it’s currently recommended by the UK’s National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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