What is EMDR
EMDR is an acronym for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. A bit of a mouthful - it’s simply a psychotherapeutic tool for working with distressing memories.
Is it an approved treatment?
Yes - NICE here in the UK (National Institute for Clinical Excellence), the American Psychological Association and The World Health Organisation all recommend EMDR for working with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD (it was found to be particularly effective in the 1980s onwards for working with military personnel returning from active duty).
Does that mean EMDR is only useful for “huge” events like a car crash or an assault?
No - though it is highly effective for those experiences. Psychologically there is shock trauma and developmental trauma. Developmental trauma refers to repeated, almost casual moments in our development when we were, for example, misunderstood by those who cared for us, bullied or humiliated. If we experience them very occasionally and within a supportive environment, they rarely cause us any issues. But if they happen repeatedly, these ‘small t’s’ can be hugely damaging. We might not realise their effect because, viewed in isolation, they appear insignificant - just a normal part of growing up. But they may still be influencing our lives unconsciously. To varying degrees, we’ve all had trauma in our lives. We just may not realise it.
How does it work?
If someone asks us what we did yesterday, we might talk about going to work or meeting someone for a coffee and, provided nothing overtly shocking happened, we remember it easily, the memory is readily available to us and it doesn’t come with any uncomfortable feelings. But in the case of a difficult experience, we might not even want to recall it. It gets locked away in its raw, unprocessed state. In fact, it’s stored in a completely different part of the brain, the part more associated with our primitive animal selves. Which means we never get the opportunity to process the memory, or adapt it from the perspective of where we are today. It remains locked in time along with any difficult feelings. These traumatic memories may need some help to become processed. EMDR is one way to do this because, even though locked away, they still have a huge influence on our everyday lives and the decisions we take. The eye movements we use in EMDR seem to help unlock the nervous system and allow our brains to do the processing. It’s been suggested that it’s similar to the process of REM sleep.
Does it work online?
Yes. I use an on-screen technology to mimic the eye movement stimulus you would experience if you were watching my hand moving in front of you (the conventional EMDR process). Also, the ‘E’ in ‘EMDR’ is slightly misleading. More often these days we talk about BLS or bilateral stimulation. As long there is a left and right stimulation, it is still effective. For example you may follow me on-screen tapping left and right, or watch a moving dot. We can even use sound if appropriate. The most important thing to remember is that we are simply allowing our own brain the opportunity of healing itself. We’re just creating the right environment. You will always be the one in control.
EMDR explanatory video
A fun animated explanation of EMDR
EMDR Europe (training accrediting organisation)
My training organisation