Eye Movement and Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a psychotherapeutic procedure that was originated and developed by Doctor Francine Shapiro in the United States in 1987.  It was initially designed to treat traumatic or dysfunctional memories and associated experiences together with the psychological effects.  The treatment was primarily used for cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder  (PTSD) and now encompasses a range of disorders.

In 2005, the Department of Health’s National Institute for Clinical Excellence acknowledged EMDR as an effective procedure for the treatment of PTSD.

What happens when we experience trauma?

The experience of trauma can take many forms.  It is not only major life events such as a serious accident or being victim of a vicious assault, but also the smaller events of life that can include bullying and neglect, especially experienced when young, can be devastating.  Recent brain research shows that trauma especially in the early period of development, damages mental and emotional capacity and affects physiology considerably more and for a longer period than was previously understood.

For the most part our bodies normally process information and experiences without our conscious awareness.  However, when we are suddenly confronted with a devastating experience or we are persistently distressed, our natural coping mechanisms can become disrupted and overwhelmed.  These experiences can cause disturbing experiences to block the normal integrative process.  The unprocessed memories stored in the limbic system can be triggered by similar later events.  Frequently the original experience is not remembered but distressing feelings of fear, panic, desperation  or anger are being constantly activated.

How can EMDR help?

In addition to the management of PTSD, EMDR has been successfully used in the resolution of:

  •   Phobias
  •   Anxiety and panic attacks
  •   Grief
  •   Addictions
  •   Stress
  •   Pain relief and phantom limb pain
  •   Sleep disturbances

What happens in a session?

After a thorough assessment to determine the suitability of EMDR to your problem, specific questions are asked about a particular intrusive memory.  You are asked to track the therapist’s fingers moving across your visual field whilst focusing on the intrusive memory.  The eye movements will last for a short time and then stop.  You are asked to describe the thoughts, feelings and images that you experienced.

After repeated sets of eye movements, the original disturbing memory tends to reduce in intensity both as a memory and in stress held in the body.

How long does an EMDR session last?

EMDR sessions can last between 60 and 90 minutes.  Complex issues that involve trauma may require many sessions, whereas phobic conditions can be addressed in relatively few.


Laura Parnell, ‘A Therapist’s Guide to EMDR,’ WW Norton & Company, 2007

Francine Shapiro, ‘Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing,’ The Guildford Press, 2001