Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy technique recognised worldwide for treating psychological distress, particularly in relation to (but not limited to) trauma, such as direct or indirect experiences of violence, accidents or natural disaster which can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Originally pioneered by Dr. Francine Shapiro, an American Clinical Psychologist and Senior Research Fellow, in 1987, EMDR has been thoroughly researched, documented and developed further since. In the UK, EMDR has been recommended by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a highly effective treatment for PTSD.

EMDR therapy is also used to treat more prolonged, low-grade distress that originates in shock or loss in adult life and/or issues experienced during childhood and is increasingly being used to treat:

  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Performance anxiety
  • Phobias and fears
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem.

EMDR holds the view that you re-live traumatic or triggering experiences which have not been stored in memory properly and overwhelms your current coping abilities. These experiences are believed to be unprocessed or blocked which result in things in the here and now triggering the same raw feelings and accompanying sights, sounds and thoughts. It is believed that the traumatic memories trigger the brain’s natural Fight, Flight and Freeze responses due to not being stored properly.

Usually, our brain naturally and automatically processes events and memories, and these are stored in the logical part of the brain (frontal), which can understand and assess that the memory is not happening now and gives you the tools on how to deal with the memory making it less overwhelming. If things haven’t processed naturally this way, you might experience flashbacks, phobias and sudden bouts of fear, for which you have no rational explanation.

How does it work?

EMDR uses eye movements and other stimuli (e.g., tapping) to help you process traumatic memories rapidly in a safe way. It is thought to be effective because recalling distressing events is often less emotionally upsetting when your attention is diverted. By using rapid eye movements (moving your eyes side to side quickly), you are paying attention to the eye movements whilst also thinking about your memory. By doing this we engage the brain’s natural adaptive information processing mechanisms by creating bilateral sensory input. This simply means that you are able to focus on both the traumatic memories as well as the sensory feeling of the present moment where you are focussed on rapidly moving your eyes. This allows you to be exposed to the memories or thoughts without having a strong psychological response.

There are different forms of creating this bi-lateral stimulation. The most common is to move your eyes side to side by following my fingers. This is done quite quickly and we will do some tasters on how this feels. Sometimes people don’t like the feeling of this, so we have other methods such as paying attention to sounds or tapping sessions which move from one side to the other just as quickly. Bi-lateral stimulation has been found to enhance memory processing and there are a number of theories explaining how it might do this. 

EMDR is broken down into 8 phases over multiple sessions.

How effective is EMDR and is there anything I should know?

EMDR has been found to be extremely effective for treating PTSD and more recent studies showing effectiveness for a number of other difficulties. Research shows EMDR to be effective in reducing the re-experience of traumatic memories, feeling more able to cope and manage, reducing feelings of stress, anxiety and hypervigilance, not only in the short-term but also that people maintain benefits long after treatment has ended.

It is considered to be very safe with very few side effects. Some people do find the process distressing which is why it is extremely important to complete the preparation and assessment thoroughly. Sometimes people also continue to process their memories after a session had ended, which can feel scary and cause light-headedness and vivid/realistic dreams. It is therefore important to practice the coping strategies developed in phase 2.

Often people find the beginning of therapy the most difficult as you are talking about traumatic events which have bought you to therapy. It may be emotionally stressful whilst moving through the course of therapy, but rest assured, we will work to support you throughout.

Dr Lakshman (Lucky) Ganatra has trained in EMDR and Dr Sarjan Grewal is currently training in EMDR. Dr Grewal may be able to offer concessionary rates for EMDR therapy whilst he completes training. If this would be of interest please Contact Me.

If you would like to find out more information about EMDR and how it might help you or are thinking this might be the right approach for you, please Contact Me to discuss how we might be able to help. 

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