What is EMDR?

by Lyndsay Babcock

Psychologist & Director – The Self Centre 

Ever wonder what EMDR is and why you may be hearing more about it lately?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapeutic approach that was developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s. It is primarily used to treat individuals who have experienced trauma, although it has also been applied to other conditions such as anxiety, phobias, and depression. EMDR has gained significant recognition and acceptance within the mental health community as an effective treatment for trauma-related disorders.

At the core of EMDR therapy is the belief that traumatic experiences can become “stuck” in a person’s memory, causing distressing symptoms and emotional disturbances. EMDR aims to help people process these traumatic memories so that they no longer trigger intense emotional reactions.

The hallmark technique of EMDR involves bilateral stimulation, which can be achieved through a therapist’s hand movements, auditory tones, or tapping. During an EMDR session, the individual focuses on the distressing memory while simultaneously engaging in these bilateral movements. This dual attention is thought to facilitate the brain’s natural ability to process and integrate traumatic memories, allowing the individual to reframe their perception of the traumatic event and reduce emotional distress.

EMDR is typically conducted in several phases, starting with a thorough assessment of the individual’s history and symptoms. The therapist and client work collaboratively to identify target memories and associated negative beliefs. Throughout subsequent sessions, the client engages in bilateral stimulation while addressing these targeted memories. Over time, the distress associated with the memories is reduced, and more adaptive beliefs are established.

One of the strengths of EMDR is its structured approach, which combines elements of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) with unique bilateral stimulation techniques. This makes it a versatile tool for treating a wide range of psychological conditions. EMDR should be only administered by trained and licensed therapists who have received specialised training in this therapeutic approach.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful therapeutic technique designed to help individuals process and heal from traumatic experiences. It can offer hope to those who have been affected by trauma, providing a structured and evidence-based approach to reducing distress and fostering emotional resilience. EMDR continues to evolve and is widely regarded as an effective treatment option for various mental health concerns.

The Self Centre 2023