EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. It is a therapy used to help people recover from distressing events and the problems they have caused, like flashbacks, upsetting thoughts or images, depression or anxiety.
EMDR is recognised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How does EMDR work?
When a person is involved in a traumatic event, they may feel overwhelmed and their brain may be unable to fully process what is going on. The memory of the event seems to become “stuck” so that it remains very intense and vivid. The person can re-experience what they saw, heard and smelt and the full force of the distress they felt whenever the memory comes to mind.
EMDR aims to help the brain ‘unstick’ and reprocess the memory properly so that it is no longer so intense. It also helps to desensitise the person to the emotional impact of the memory, so that they can think about the event without experiencing such strong feelings.
It does this by asking the person to recall the traumatic event while they also move their eyes from side-to-side, hear a sound in each ear alternately, or feel a tap on each hand alternately. These side-to-side sensations seem to effectively stimulate the ‘stuck’ processing system in the brain so that it can reprocess the information more like an ordinary memory, reducing its intensity.
Who can EMDR help?
EMDR is best known for its effectiveness in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and is widely used in the NHS.
EMDR can also be used to help treat a variety of mental health problems like depression or anxiety, especially where a difficult life event has been involved. EMDR can be useful for people who have witnessed or experienced an event like a car accident, a violent crime, sexual or emotional abuse, bullying, a social humiliation or the sudden loss of a loved one, and are struggling to recover.
This page has been adapted from the EMDR Association website.