What is EMDR therapy?
EMDR stands for eye movement, desensitisation and reprocessing. It is an awkward name but the words describe what happens in this therapy. Essentially, the therapy works by giving your brain more than one thing to do at once.
Your eyes follow a moving light and you may also listen to sounds and experience vibrations in your hands (eye movement). A light bar, head phones and two pulsators are used to deliver the stimulation. These are all designed to tax your working memory by getting you to pay attention. At the same time, you are asked to focus on whatever memory, feeling or sensation is troubling you. The effect of focusing on all the stimulation, whilst allowing memories to come, has the effect of shifting the memory and reducing the distress caused by it (desensitisation). When we lower the emotional content of an experience, we change our perception and evaluation of it (reprocessing).
An unpleasant but accurate analogy might be using rods to clear blockages in pipes. EMDR acts to flush out those repetitive, emotion-filled experiences that are the hallmarks of trauma. After all, something that one has neutral feelings about does endlessly loop in one’s head.
I use EMDR with many of my clients to work on ‘big T’ experiences. These are highly distressing and uncontrollable events such as threats to life. I also use it to help clients move past ‘small t’ experiences- the inner critic that never gives them a day’s peace, the humiliation of being cheated on, the relationship they can’t get over, the bullying at school.
I also use it as a stand alone approach to help with performance anxiety, attachment to food or unhealthy behaviours and to help people prepare for upcoming stressful events such as social gatherings, interviews and exams.
EMDR is a very flexible approach and, although the focus of the work is emotional experience, most people find that EMDR is not a distressing experience in itself. Often, it is a relief to work through something that has gone round and round without resolution. It can even be used where the person does not want to reveal any details of the traumatic experience, thereby mitigating the risk of re-traumatisation.
It can be done in person using the equipment you see above, and it can also be done very successfully online using a CloudEMDR platform.
Below is a brilliant account that a client very helpfully wrote up of her experience of EMDR therapy. She puts it so much better than I do and I hope you will find her experience helpful and encouraging.
I sought the help of Bernadette at a time in my life where I felt completely overwhelmed by my emotions surrounding an extremely challenging and painful event. The strength of those feelings was a shock to me, an otherwise strong and capable person, because it debilitated me and physically impaired me. Trapped in fear, I felt I could barely function and, having tried to work through it by myself in various ways with some degree of improvement, I came to a point that I needed external and professional support. After a few sessions where the issue I had got discussed, Bernadette suggested we try a session of EMDR. I was so lost that I agreed to it without researching it (something very unusual for me) and went into the session open and ready, but without much belief that it could get me out of the pain I had been in for a few months. Thankfully, I was wrong. I knew I was dealing with deep traumas, and EMDR totally tackled those in what I thought was a very gentle and kind way. I left the session already lighter and much relieved but with the expectation that the effects would soon wear off, like a drug. Well, that wasn’t the case. Not only the strength of the feeling was dampened greatly but also a certain kind of damaging thoughts and imagery ceased to have a grip on me. That meant that, from then on, I was able to function almost to normality in my life, see the issues more objectively, and therefore tackle them with a plan, not being paralysed with fear and terror. The EMDR treatment signalled the beginning of my recovery and the beginning of my future. I cannot be more grateful to Bernadette for her compassion, kindness, valuable insight and the ability to see me and guide me through the most difficult time and making it as easy and pleasurable as it can possibly be. And I cannot vouch more for EMDR. A revelation.
Want to know more about EMDR, or book a session?