EMDR Therapy, or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, is a specialist type of therapy that helps people to process deeply ingrained negative experiences, including trauma.
It is an 8-phase therapy, involving the use of what is called bi-lateral stimulation (these are usually eye movements, taps or sounds). Following a course of EMDR therapy, symptoms of distress such as depression, anxiety, fearfulness, panic, avoidance, sleep disturbance, nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance, dissociation and negative self-beliefs can be reduced or, in many circumstances, eradicated altogether. These outcomes are supported by research evidence, and EMDR is recommended by the NHS and the World Health Organisation as an effective and first choice treatment for trauma.
EMDR works by putting emotional distance between you and your upsetting experiences.
Clients typically describe feeling more settled and peaceful after a course of EMDR therapy.
Yes and No
EMDR was originally developed to support people who were experiencing post-traumatic stress (PTSD) following overwhelming life events. It is still used this way by the NHS.
However, the application of EMDR is much wider now and if you see a private practitioner like me, you can access EMDR for a whole range of problems.
Applications of EMDR have evolved
Over time and with more research we have learnt that EMDR can help people overcome difficult life experiences even if they aren't classed as trauma. It can also help with addictions, phobias, anxiety, depression, and much more.
EMDR can even help with work-related performance issues, such as low self-confidence.
We understand more about the body & mind
We now know that difficult life experiences, whether in childhood or adulthood, can have a significant impact on how we feel about ourselves well into adulthood. We also know that such experiences are often linked to bodily experiences of anxiety, panic, depression, and emotional numbing.
Upsetting life experiences and trauma can feel somewhat similar in the mind and body. This is because of the way our brains and bodies are designed to respond to upsetting experiences.
Trauma is best understood as an individual physiological experience rather than an event that happens to us. It's not so much about what happened, but more about how your body processes what happened. It's important to know that this is beyond your conscious control. It's something that happens deep in the oldest part of the brain and within your autonomic nervous system. Your body decides how you respond to something overwhelming.
This means that two people can experience the same thing, and one might feel traumatized and the other one not. Of course, some things will be universally experienced as traumatic, for instance childhood sexual abuse, because it is something a child's mind and body just cannot process.
We now know that the support we receive from family and community helps us to recover from overwhelming experiences. The higher quality the support, the better our recovery. There would actually be less trauma in the world if we were better at supporting each other emotionally.
EMDR can help with feeling traumatised or feeling distressed, anxious or numb.
This includes feeling traumatised or distressed following an incident like an accident, assault, rape, an act of terrorism, a death, suicide, or a difficult birth experience.
Trauma & Distress in Adult Relationships / Social Contexts
This might include being in a violent, manipulative or coercive relationship. Or experiencing racism or another type of hostility within your intimate relationship, or at work, school, or in life more generally.
Trauma & Distress in Childhood
As a child, you might have been overtly neglected or abused. Or your experience might have been more subtle. Maybe you didn't feel loved, weren't shown love and affection, or were parented very harshly. Perhaps a parent or carer disappeared from your life. As an adult, you might find yourself struggling in ways you can't make sense of.
If you are a front-line or humanitarian worker, you might witness trauma on a regular basis. This can lead to something called vicarious trauma, meaning you are being traumatized by someone else's trauma. Or perhaps you witnessed something very distressing, like an accident or someone's death.
Ongoing Trauma & Distress
War, a pandemic, seeking asylum, displacement, human trafficking & slavery are examples of ongoing trauma.
Having to live with chronic illness or a life-changing diagnosis can also cause high levels of distress.
Emotional distress might manifest as anxiety & panic, rage, or depression & numbing. Some people experience an overwhelming combination of the all of those things. You might cope by using substances, exercise, or working excessively. Or you might be controlling your food in ways that make you unwell.