You might have seen EMDR being spoken about in the media a fair bit recently. Many famous people have been speaking out about how it has helped them with psychological difficulties, most often past traumas, but what actually is it?
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. It was developed in 1987 by American Psychologist Francine Shapiro, initially as a treatment for trauma. Shapiro tells how she discovered the main premise, almost by accident, as she walked in the park: She noticed that as she thought about some distressing memories, her eyes moved back and forth and the distress she felt reduced. From this she went on to develop EMDR, which is now widely practiced across the world.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the UK currently recommends EMDR as a treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There is also a significant and ever-growing evidence base for the use of EMDR to treat other psychological issues. EMDR can be used effectively with children and adults. Clients often notice quick changes (sometimes in even just 2 or 3 sessions) which can have long lasting effects.
There are several theories as to how EMDR actually works, although it still isn’t 100% clear. The main premise is that the two sides of the brain are alternately stimulated whilst the person holds a difficult thought or memory in mind. Traditionally the therapist would stimulate alternating sides of a person’s brain by moving their hand side to side, whilst the person tracks with their eyes (hence the name Eye Movement). However, there are other techniques, such as alternating hand buzzers, hand taps, audio or light bars. This allows things have that become ‘stuck’ to be re-processed, and therefore to be less distressing. The eye movements (or other forms of alternating stimulation) form a significant part of the therapy. There is also talking involved, but people do not necessarily have to share all the details of their traumatic story if they prefer not to.
EMDR is an advanced therapy and should only be delivered by highly skilled, trained therapists. In order to become an accredited EMDR therapist there is a significant amount of training and then supervised therapy work with clients.
The website of the EMDR Association UK and Ireland has more information on EMDR, finding a therapist and some stories of people who have benefitted from EMDR therapy – www.emdrassociation.org.uk