What is EMDR?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. It is a unique, powerful therapy that helps people recover from problems triggered by traumatic events. It stops events like flashbacks, upsetting thoughts or images, depression or anxiety causing so much distress by helping the brain to reprocess them properly.

It is most well-known for treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and it can help with a range of mental health conditions for people of all ages.

EMDR is recognised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the World Health Organisation (WHO), which also recognises it as an effective treatment for children.

EMDR at Oxford Clinical Psychology

Dr Nicola Smith is a fully trained EMDR therapist.

EMDR is a complex therapeutic process that should always be delivered by properly trained therapists.

How does EMDR work?

When a person has experienced 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 becomes “stuck” and remains very vivid and intense. 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 reprocess and “unstick” the memory so that it is no longer so powerful. It also helps to desensitise the person to the emotional impact of the memory, so that they can think about the event without experiencing the intense feelings associated with it.

While undergoing EMDR 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.

The effect may be similar to what occurs naturally during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, when your eyes move rapidly from side to side as the brain processes the events of the day. Some research suggests that EMDR is effective because concentrating on another task whilst processing a distressing memory gives the brain more work to do. When the brain is not giving its full attention to processing the memory, it starts to become less vivid. This allows the person to distance themselves from it and begin to remember the event in a more helpful and manageable way.

Our definition and description of EMDR comes from EMDR Association of UK & Ireland. For lots more information on EMDR please visit EMDR Association.