What is Eye Movement Desensitisation and reprocessing? (EMDR)

  • November 24, 2021
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  • Michelle
Eye Movement Desensitisation and reprocessing

Eye moment desensitisation and reprocessing is a relatively new technique. It was first practiced in the late 1980s, which has been shown to be effective in managing problems caused by trauma. But what is eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)?

Previous trauma can cause mental health problems long after the event. This can often present as issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), where an individual might experience terrifying flashbacks to the trauma. But they can also cause other mental health problems like depression and anxiety, where the trauma will affect the general quality of life of an individual. For example, making them anxious in certain situations.

What is Eye Movement Desensitisation and reprocessing?

EMDR works by combining therapy with bilateral stimulation. The most common method is, repeatedly looking from left to right, which is where the technique gets its name. However, other methods of diverting attention to each side are also used, for example, tapping to each side.

The theory is that, by combining this stimulation to alternate sides with therapy, it allows the patient to process their memories. This means the patient can lead a life where those memories still exist. But no longer have the same hold over them.

How does Eye Movement Desensitisation and reprocessing work?

While clinical research has shown that EMDR is effective, the exact reason behind this has not been established. There are, however, several theories.

One of the most popular is that previous trauma needs to be processed for a patient to recover. Essentially, a traumatic memory may feel too painful to address, so intrudes into the daily consciousness of the individual. Often many years after the event. EMDR helps with this by creating another stimulus while recalling the event and will activate several parts of your brain in addition to those associated with memories. By keeping your consciousness and working memory active while recalling traumas, it ensures you keep one foot in the present. It prevents the painful memory from becoming overwhelming while it is processed.

Another popular theory is that the eye movements help create a state like REM sleep. Sleep itself is still poorly understood by science, but there is some research suggesting that the brain processes memories while asleep. So creating a similar brain state can help process traumas.

What is an EMDR session like?

EMDR is a recognised therapy and will be conducted by a qualified therapist. In many ways, it will be like any other therapy session, but with the addition of eye movements. EMDR therapists will often use a guide to help with these, from a simple metronome to time eye movements, to a light bar with a strobing light your eyes can follow.

Although EMDR is usually associated with trauma, and especially treatment for PTSD, research has shown that it can be effective with a wide range of mental health problems, including some personality disorders, stress, anxiety, depression, and addictions. If think you may be experiencing difficulties linked to past trauma, it is worth discussing with your therapist whether EMDR might be a suitable treatment for you.

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Michelle