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EMDR Therapy: What You Need To Know

Updated: Oct 26

What is EMDR Therapy?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an intense type of therapy that enables healing from symptoms and emotional distress that stem from difficult life experiences.


EMDR therapy shows that the mind can heal from psychological trauma, akin to how the body recovers from physical injury. For example, when you get a cut on your skin, your body works to close this wound. But if a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes.


The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health. If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a distressing event, the emotional wound festers, which can cause intense suffering. Once the block is removed, healing resumes. Using a detailed protocol, an EMDR trained therapist can help you activate your natural healing processes.


How does EMDR work?

Once we have decided which memory or event to focus our work on, you will be asked to hold a specific aspect of that event or thought in mind, and the process of bilateral stimulation begins. This can be in the form of eye movement, or with the use of self-administered tapping techniques.


It is believed that the bilateral stimulation is connected with the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, internal associations arise and you will begin to process the memory and upsetting feelings.

During EMDR treatment, you remain fully awake and present.


In successful EMDR therapy, the meaning of painful events is transformed on an emotional level. As such, the memory remains, but as the memory is moved from one part of the brain to another, the distressing event is neutralised on an emotional level. For instance, a victim of an assault, shifts from feeling fearful to holding a positive belief, such as: “I survived it and I am strong.”


Unlike talking therapy, the insights you gain during EMDR therapy result not from therapist’s interpretation, but from your own accelerated intellectual and emotional processes, often without speaking about the upsetting experience in detail.


How long does it take?

It typically takes two to five sessions for one memory to be fully processed using EMDR, although many people will need to process several related memories before noticing a change in how they feel.

Additionally, a number of sessions are required to prepare for EMDR therapy.


It is worth noting that EMDR therapy is not a magic cure, no such thing exists in life.


Who may want to consider EMDR therapy?

EMDR can be an effective therapeutic treatment for those suffering from past trauma, phobias, anxiety disorders, low self-esteem, loss and grief.

EMDR is often used in combination with talking therapy.


The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends EMDR therapy for PTSD.


Who is not suitable for EMDR therapy?

EMDR is not suitable for those with a history of epilepsy, brain injury, significant memory loss and psychiatric conditions, including psychosis, personality disorders and prolonged disassociation.


EMDR may not be suitable for those who tend to become overwhelmed by their emotions, or those who shut-down their feelings.