EMDR Overview

What is EMDR?


EMDR stands for Eye Movement and Desensitisation Reprocessing and was developed by American Psychologist Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s.

The aim is to relieve psychological distress and the physical symptoms associated with traumatic memories or anticipatory anxiety such as phobias.  It uses eye movements or other bilateral stimulation (ie tactile or auditory) to reduce or eliminate the intensity of disturbing thoughts and/or bodily sensations related to past trauma or anticipated trauma.

In the UK it is recommended in the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and more information can be found here:

Sometimes clients ask if EMDR is a form of hypnosis because it uses eye movements.  However, it is NOT hypnosis as during therapy you will be fully alert and in control, being able to stop the therapy at any time you choose to.  EMDR cannot be done against your will.


How does EMDR work?


Exactly how EMDR works is uncertain but a number of controlled studies have consistently reported improvements with clients’ anxiety symptoms after treatment.  One suggestion is that EMDR appears to be similar to what occurs during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.

Traumatic events can be stored as if they are still a current threat because the brain has not fully processed them as belonging in the past.  EMDR therapy aids the reprocessing of such disturbing memories so the client no longer relives  the unpleasant symptoms such as flashbacks or palpitations attached to the original event.


What problems can EMDR help with?


Research and controlled studies have shown that EMDR decreases symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress for the majority of clients.  According to the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) clinicians have also reported successful outcomes in the following areas:

  • phobias
  • panic attacks
  • disturbing memories
  • eating disorders
  • performance anxiety
  • stress reduction
  • complicated grief


What happens during EMDR therapy and how long does it last for?


The number of sessions for EMDR therapy will vary according to the complexity of the traumatic memories or anticipatory anxiety which will be discussed with your therapist at your first session.

Also, at your first session you will complete a number of questionnaires to ensure EMDR is an appropriate therapy for your symptoms and to help you and your therapist agree the focus for therapy going forward.

Once your target memories have been assessed and agreed your therapist will ask you to recall a particular memory along with your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations (e.g. palpitations, tight jaw etc) that go with it.  At Tarring Psychotherapy we use a light bar to create the eye movements similar to REM sleep.  If there is any discomfort with eye movements your therapist will use either hand held tappers or headphones instead.

After each set of eye movements your therapist will ask you to report back on your experience which may include changes in your thoughts, images, feelings or bodily sensations. These sets are repeated until the memory is experienced as less disturbing in the present.  Clients often report that the memory seems to fade or become more distant.

Your brain may continue to reprocess the memory between sessions so your therapist will coach you in some self-soothing techniques to help you manage any new insights or thoughts that arise.  You will also be given a diary sheet so you can make a note of anything that comes up to discuss at your next meeting.

This protocol will continue until the target memories have been successfully reprocessed and are no longer causing high levels of psychological distress.


If I’m interested in EMDR what do I do next?


I offer a free, no obligation meeting to discuss whether or not EMDR may be a suitable approach for you to relieve your symptoms.  To book this please contact me either by phone 07776 258515 or email claire@tarringpsychotherapy.co.uk


EMDR websites and videos


EMDR Association for UK & Ireland http://emdrassociation.org.uk

EMDR Europe https://emdr-europe.org

EMDR International Association https://emdria.site-ym.com

Francine Shapiro Library https://emdria.omeka.net

Treating Trauma with EMDR Healing from our nightmares https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2BhZwHXFro