What is EMDR?

Why do distressing memories become so intrusive, so easily triggered by everyday experiences, a sound, an image, a touch even a smell? They seem to be locked in the forefront of our subconscious. There are many theories, one being that it is like an early warning, protecting us from a repeat of the original experience, but that it is programmed too finely, taking us back to “X” so easily and often that it ruins the balance in our lives.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a complex, highly specialized therapy used to overcome the effects of traumatic or upsetting experiences. It was developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro, after she noticed her own stress reactions diminishing when her eyes swept back and forth as she walked through a park.

EMDR combines several therapeutic methods — psychodynamic, cognitive, behavioural, etc. — with eye movements or other forms of rhythmical stimulation, such as hand taps or sounds. It involves recalling a stressful past event and “reprogramming” the memory in the light of a positive, self-chosen belief.

Theories as to why EMDR works are still evolving. It has been most successful with single-incident trauma, but has expanded to effectively treat the emotional scars left by more common childhood events that keep people stuck in limiting behaviours.

What we do know is that it is very successful, very well researched and documented, which is why EMDR, along with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is approved by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (N.I.C.E.) for use in the National Health Service.