Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of therapy that works by tapping into your brain’s natural ability to heal itself. Our brain processes new information all the time and when something traumatic occurs those natural processes can become overwhelmed or overloaded. The traumatic memories can then become stuck or stored in a way that distresses us when we think or are reminded of them. They can stop us doing things we used to do or want to do. Memories stored in this way can be triggered by sights, sounds, smells or something that reminds you of the traumatic experience.
The memory itself may even be blocked or long forgotten, but the emotional response remains. That may be in the form of anxiety or panic, anger, overwhelming sadness, sleep problems or nightmares for example.
What to expect from EMDR
During the first session you and your therapist will establish what you would like to work on and what to expect from EMDR. Once established, the therapist will use “bi-lateral stimulation” to help you process traumatic memories.
Bi-lateral stimulation is simply activating alternate sides of your brain. The therapist will usually do this by having you watch their fingers as they move back and forth. Sometimes, they may have you watch a special light moving from side to side.
The eye movements last for a short amount of time, guided by your therapist. You will then be asked to give some information about what you’ve just experienced during the eye movements; this may be a particular thought, image or emotion. As the process is repeated the memory tends to become less intense, less painful and more like a neutral memory of a past event.
During therapy, associated memories may also be healed at the same time. This means you may see an improvement in many aspects of your life.
The aim of EMDR is to help the brain to reprocess this information in a more helpful way.
What else should I know about EMDR therapy?
Due to the use of finger movements or tapping, the therapist tends to sit a little closer compared with other forms of therapy.
During the sessions, strong thoughts and feelings may arise, however they are likely to be brief. Together with the therapist you will work on a safe place that you can use during the process to help you manage any difficult thoughts and feelings.
You will be in control and fully conscious throughout the sessions, and you can bring the process to an end at any time should you wish.
EMDR can be quite a rapid form of treatment, and patients sometimes experience significant changes within just a few sessions.