What is EMDR?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. It is a gentle, non-invasive technique that revolutionised the treatment of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder when it was discovered by a clinical psychologist called Dr Francine Shapiro in the 1980s. It involves alternately stimulating both sides of the brain using a series of 'taps', sounds or eye movements.
No one knows exactly how EMDR works, only that this gentle left-right stimulation of the brain - a movement which mimics our eye-movements in REM sleep - appears to activate the part of the brain that is needed to process, and allow us to move on from, distressing events.
How do we become traumatised?
Scientists believe a disruption of normal brain activity helps explain why we experience trauma in the first place. Usually, when something distressing occurs, we get over it. We may, for example, feel very upset after having an argument with our boss. Days later, we have usually 'moved on'. Our brain is designed to mend itself in the same way that our bodies are.
Sometimes, however, we find an event so distressing that instead of processing it, our brain buries it, often alongside negative thoughts such as 'I have no control over my life' or 'I am worthless' or 'I have to be perfect'.
Every time something happens to remind us of the event, we re-live the experience, and the thoughts and feelings associated with it. This is why trauma victims experience symptoms including anxiety, flashbacks, or full-blown panic attacks.
EMDR doesn't eradicate events from our minds. But it does lessen the intensity of traumatic memories and their ability to distress us. Brain scans have shown that EMDR calms the areas of the brain associated with trauma. In effect, the memories become more like 'normal memories'.
What can EMDR help with?
EMDR is well known for its effectiveness in treating post traumatic stress. EMDR can also help with individual problems such as:
- eating disorders
- performance anxiety
- panic attacks
- disturbing memories
- constant worrying
- hyper-arousal, oversensitivity to 'threat'
What happens in an EMDR session? How many sessions will I need?
Many people who undergo EMDR need help processing and getting over a single event; others may be suffering from more generalised anxiety. Your therapist will usually begin by asking you to recall some of the most disturbing memories or incidents from your life. Together with your therapist, you will choose one of these to focus on during the session.
Your therapist will then ask you to fix on an image that represents the most harrowing aspect of that experience. As you do this, your therapist will alternately stimulate the left and right sides of your brain.
This is completely non-invasive and can be done in several ways. Your therapist may ask you to follow their fingers with your eyes as they move them from side to side. Alternatively you may be asked to follow the sound of a clicker moving from left to right and back again.
Our clients report a variety of experiences during EMDR sessions. These include seeing an array of mental images, having thoughts running through their mind such as 'I wish this hadn't happened', experiencing sensations such as tingling or tension, or feeling emotions such as frustration or anger.
You do not have to think about these thoughts or sensations; you can simply observe them as they pass. EMDR is about trusting in the brain's capacity to heal itself, and this is what will be happening as this natural process unfolds.
EMDR is different to psychotherapy; the effects are more immediate, and we would normally recommend having 3 to 4 sessions. If you felt you needed more, this could be discussed with your therapist.
We are very happy to discuss our therapies in more detail. For more information, or to book in with EMDR practitioner Melike Kayhan, please contact us .