All You Need To Know About EMDR Therapy

What Is EMDR?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) is a psychological therapy that was developed by Franice Shapiro in 1987, and is an internationally recognised treatment for trauma, as well as other psychological difficulties, such as anxiety disorders and depression.

EMDR is used to help those who have experienced difficult past experiences which are still emotionally affecting them in the here and now. We know that previous adverse experiences can stay with us and affect us negatively, for example, being humiliated at school in front of your class, someone you love being harsh or unkind to you often or being involved in an assault.

These situations can understandably affect the way you feel in your day-to-day life, and we know that how you feel, influences how you think and how you live your life. Therefore, it’s important to overcome any unprocessed experiences so that ultimately, you feel better in the present. EMDR can be used to help you to process these experiences and the impact it has on you emotionally and physiologically.

How Does EMDR Work?

It is thought that EMDR works in a similar way to when we are in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep phase. REM sleep helps our brains to process all the events and experiences of the day and it is believed that the same thing happens when engaging in rapid eye movements in EMDR practice.

The eye movements are thought to stimulate the brains natural process for healing and can help you to desensitise the emotional distress you felt at the time of the trauma you experienced, whilst helping you to change the meaning of the traumatic event. Doing this, will help to improve not only how you feel day to day, but also improves your overall quality of life when you heal past hurts that are weighing heavy on you now.

We know that trauma can be trapped in the body and the nervous system, leading to an array of physical symptoms associated with anxiety. Many people have a trauma history and walk around day-to-day experiencing physical symptoms that are likely linked back to their previous histories and life experiences.

An example of this may be someone who experiences a car accident. At the time, they believed they were trapped and will never be able to walk again, and this belief is easily triggered in the here and now, for example, when driving a car. When your brain focuses on the threat, it doesn’t allow you opportunity to update the memory with new information, such as, “I got out the car eventually, and I can walk now.” Being heavily focused on the threat keeps the memory network blocked, meaning the trauma memory/beliefs are not updated, and your sense of current threat remains, long after the traumatic incident occurred.

Also, it's worth noting that the traumatic event doesn't need to be something completely catastrophic in order for it to be experienced as traumatic. Most of my clients have been bothered by events that on the outside look relatively harmless, such as a comment made my a teacher at school, however, the way it was experienced by the person was traumatic and has stuck with them.

How Effective Is EMDR?

EMDR is a NICE approved psychological treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. NICE stands for the National Institute of Clinical Excellence and recommends the best treatment for both physical and psychological problems. NICE approved treatments are evidence-based, tried and tested, and effective, which is why they are recommended for use because their effectiveness is backed up by science and clinical research and trails.

What Problems Can EMDR Treat?

EMDR was initially used to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but there is a growing evidence base to show its effectiveness in treating the following difficulties:

  • Phobias
  • Generalised Anxiety
  • OCD
  • Being a victim of crime
  • Grief/loss
  • Depression caused by adverse life experiences
  • Sexual assault
  • Accidents
  • Performance anxiety

Can I Have EMDR If I Am Pregnant?

Yes! There are lots of myths about that say EMDR may not be safe to use if you are pregnant, however, there is currently no research at all that confirms this. In fact, what research shows is pregnant clients who receive EMDR Therapy experience decreased distress and PTSD symptoms, decreased fears of childbirth, less intrusive thoughts, and an overall increase in confidence about their upcoming delivery (Baas et al, 2022).

If you are pregnant and experiencing intense emotional distress, EMDR can actually help to reduce this distress. I would always recommend having a chat with an EMDR Therapist about your individual circumstances before making a decision.

How Can I Access EMDR?

Your local Talking Therapies Service may offer EMDR on the NHS, however, some areas haven’t got the funding for it, meaning you’d need to fund your treatment privately. It’s worth getting in touch with your local Talking Therapies Service to see if EMDR is available with them. If it is, you’d have an assessment of your current set of symptoms, as well as exploring your history to try and see whether EMDR would be beneficial. If your therapist believes it will be, you will typically be offered about 12 sessions (depending on your area/NHS Trust).

For some, this number of sessions can be enough to overcome a stressful/traumatic situation in the past. For others, particularly those who have experienced multiple traumatic experiences throughout their lives, more sessions would likely be required.

To summarise, EMDR is an effective and evidence-based treatment for emotional distress and is growing in popularity. It may or may not be available on the NHS, depending on where abouts in the UK you live. I started training in EMDR earlier this year and  it has been so exciting to use it and see how it benefit my clients. EMDR fascinates me and my clients by how it works!


Useful Links:

What is EMDR therapy? with Dr Maxine King - Harley Therapy - YouTube


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