What is EMDR?


EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. It originally involved recreating the rapid eye movements (REM) that occur as part of the natural sleep cycle, to help the brain sort out traumatic memories that had been ‘misfiled’ and not processed or made sense of in the normal way. This brain malfunction is common and occurs because distressing, over-whelming, traumatic events can cause the brain to go into a temporary ‘shock’ reaction. When this happens memories stay in the current, active part of the brain (on the right side), rather than being treated as a event that is over and sent to the normal ‘memory bank’ (on the left side). This results in the stressful memories being easily triggered and re-experienced as if happening all over again, complete with the strong emotions and sensory information (sights, smells, sounds, tastes and bodily sensations). The result is flashbacks, nightmares, fragmented bits of memory and associated anxiety problems (such as a startle response or ‘feeling jumpy’, watching out for anything similar or dangerous, avoiding reminders of the traumatic event etc). These difficulties can amount to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 
EMDR, in simple terms, helps your brain to make connections between its memory stores in the two halves of your brain and heal itself so that the painful memories become less intense and more like other memories – in the past where they belong rather than troubling you too much in the present. 
EMDR is increasingly being used for traumatic memories that fall short of PTSD but are still a significant factor in other mental health difficulties or psychological conditions. EMDR now also uses other ways of stimulating the right and left hand side of the brain rather than just eye movement (using stereo headphones or tapping your hands, for example). EMDR is not hypnosis – you remain in control but your brain is stimulated in a way that enables it to heal itself.
Advantages of EMDR include the fact that it tends to be quicker and less involved than the reliving techniques used in CBT – and it doesn’t involve doing more reliving at home. Also, it can be used to create or strengthen positive images or memories that may be helpful at difficult times. 
For more information see:
  1. The EMDR section on www.getselfhelp.co.uk
  2. The ‘About EMDR’ section on the EMDR UK & Ireland website  (www.emdrassociation.org.uk/home/about_EMDR_therapy.htm)
    Or go to ‘What is EMDR’ at top of the association’s home page, then the drop down menu from that tab will get you to ‘About EMDR.’