Eye-Movement Desensitisation & Re-Processing

Eye-Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing may be quite a mouthful, and hard to remember, but it does accurately describe the approach. In EMDR we address old wounds, mental blocks or traumas and support healing. “Desensitisation” means reducing the intensity of the reaction or pain you experience in response to particular events or circumstances, so that it hurts less and stress is reduced. “Re-processing” means changing the meaning of previously distressing experiences so that you can let go of, or learn from them. “Eye-movement” means exactly that, because both of these processes are assisted by moving your eyes or tapping from side to side.

What trauma, distress or block?

EMDR is best known as a therapy to help people heal from psychologically traumatic experiences. For example, accidents, injuries, physical assault, sexual abuse, and generally scary experiences. However, works really well for experiences that were more upsetting or distressing than traumatic. Since many psychological conditions (phobias, anxiety, depression, burnout, overwhelm etc.) have a collection of these experiences underneath them, EMDR often works well for other conditions. In addition, it is works well in shifting limiting beliefs and mental blocks, so can be effective in coaching as well as therapy. Essentially, it’s like pulling out the seed by the roots.

How long does it take?

That depends. For someone who is usually happy and secure who has had a single bad thing happen to them, the recommendation is 8-12 sessions. Sometimes, a couple of sessions will be plenty. Where there are multiple traumas, or significant self-worth issues, then more sessions will likely be needed. In some cases, there will need to be a lot of preparation before the reprocessing – this would still be EMDR.

I’d always recommend a session or two to explore your concern and agree an explanation. At that point I can give a better indication of how many sessions needed.

How Does EMDR WOrk?

There are lots of theories about how EMDR works. It’s likely that there are multiple ways that the approach helps people. The main theory is that the old trauma (or upsetting experience) is unprocessed and stuck in the nervous system. Every time something happens in the present that connects with that old experience, the negative parts are activated. That feels unpleasant, and can cause you to do things you do not really want to do (such as snapping at other people, hiding away, blaming, avoiding, overeating, numbing out, procrastinating etc.). Then you move on, shutting down or bottling up that old experience, … and possibly adding more on top. It remains unprocessed.

EMDR opens up that unprocessed experience, and supports your brain to file it away. It does this by moving the old experience from its stuck place into short-term memory. We are now working on it in the present and can have a look at the contents and sort it out. The experience moves into long-term memory and fades into the past. You can still remember it, and hold onto anything you find useful, but the distress is gone. It no longer bothers you to encounter things that are connected to that experience.

Other ways EMDR works is that it helps you to sit with difficult feelings. As you do that, the feelings are less threatening and your nervous system learns to let them go. Rather wonderfully, another effect of EMDR is often that you spontaneously start remembering helpful or positive parts of the experience. For example, how you coped or how people supported you.

In truth, the reason it works is not wholly known yet. But we do know it works. Both the National Institute for Clinical Excellence and the World Health Organisations recommend EMDR.

Who Can Provide EMDR?

This is a very important question. EMDR is an advance, and complex approach that relies on the therapists’ knowledge and expertise. Genuine, accredited, training bodies will only accept professionals such as councilors and psychologists who are registered and regulated in their profession.

However, there are non-accredited training routes and people who offer EMDR. There are reports of bad experiences with EMDR, and often this is due to the practitioner not being appropriately trained or qualified.

In the UK, psychologists would be registered with the Health and Care Professionals Council. To provide EMDR as a practitioner, they must complete EMDR training that is recognised by EMDR UK. This is adequate, however it is also possible to gain accreditation as a practitioner with EMDR UK. Accredited Practitioners have gained experience and developed their skills under supervision to ensure high quality and application of EMDR.