EMDR is an acronym for ‘Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing’. EMDR is a powerful psychological treatment method that was developed by an American clinical psychologist, Dr Shapiro, in the 1980s.
When a person is involved in a distressing event, they may feel overwhelmed and their brain may be unable to process the information like a normal memory. The distressing memory seems to become frozen on a neurological level. When a person recalls the distressing memory, the person can re-experience what they saw, heard, smelt, tasted or felt, and this can be quite intense. Sometimes the memories are so distressing, the person tries to avoid thinking about the distressing event to avoid the distressing feelings. You may find that distressing memories come to mind when something reminds you of the distressing event, or sometimes the memories may seem just to just pop into your mind. During EMDR therapy, the eye movements (or sometimes sounds or taps) seem to stimulate the blocked information processing system. Distressing memories lose their intensity, so that the memories are less distressing and seem more like ‘ordinary’ memories.
EMDR is not simply the use of eye movements; it is a comprehensive therapeutic approach that aims to reduce distress in the shortest period of time.
During the initial assessment sessions, I will spend time getting to know your history. If EMDR is felt to be suitable, we will talk through the theory behind EMDR and the process of therapy. The preperation stage then includes establishing coping strategies, which may include a ‘calm place’ exercise, guided visualisation and breathing retraining, as well as considering the memories that need to be processed. Once you are ready to begin processing work, we will decide on the first target memory, often the memory you find most distressing or intrusive, and work on this memory using eye movements or taps. During the eye movements you may experience the distressing event quite intensely to begin with, but this distress generally reduces as the memory is processed.
EMDR treatment generates a certain amount of ‘momentum’, so the treatment doesn’t stop after the session and you may find other memories coming to mind in the days after treatment . If these memories are distressing, you will be supported to think about how you can take care of yourself. Some people find that they dream more after sessions. It can be helpful to keep a note of your experiences between sessions. EMDR generally requires around at least 12 sessions, depending, of course, on the nature and complexity of the trauma.