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EMDR is a recognised treatment option for anxiety, PTSD and other conditions

EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) was developed in the 1980’s by a psychologist who was interested in how our brains could be ‘reprogrammed’ to overcome distressing memories and thoughts.

Whilst there has been much in the press about the effectiveness of EMDR, it is recognised by many (and the UK’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence) as a successful treatment option for many people struggling with conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, panic attacks, complicated grief, abuse and personality disorders.


Video: What is EMDR and what can it be used for?


What is EMDR?

Francine Shapiro, a psychologist, believed that traumatic memories could override our normal coping mechanisms, resulting in some people’s lives being ruined by distressing flashbacks, crippling anxiety and panic attacks and memories that were overwhelming.

Somehow the memory gets ‘stuck’ and has continues to have a powerful influence on the individual’s life, even many years after the event.

Shapiro went on to carry out much research into this area and developed a new way of treatment option – called EMDR.


What happens in an EMDR sessions?

You will be asked to recount the distressing memory or thoughts that are particularly difficult for you. Examples of these could be a road traffic accident, assault, trauma or even a diagnosis of an illness.

The therapist will use a gentle visual stimulus, for instance moving a pen from side to side in front of the patient’s eyes, whilst asking the patient to focus on the distressing thoughts. EMDR also involves asking the patient to create positive associations with that memory - the aim is that the distressing memory loses its potency and the association of the memory to negative thoughts and feelings is lessened.


Video: How does EMDR work?


How does it work?

No one is really sure; there are several theories as to why it can be so effective for thousands of patients.

  • One theory is linked to the quality of the distressing memories; distressing memories are often rich in terms of colour, smell, sound and feeling. It is thought that whilst the memories remain so full of sensory detail they are strongly present in our minds and hence can result in hugely distressing and overwhelming flashbacks, panic attacks and anxiety.
  • It is thought that the EMDR therapy disrupts the way our brain stores the memory 1, resulting in the quality of the memory reducing.
  • Others have wondered whether the visual stimulus brings the brain into a state of ‘high alert’. When there is no real threat, the brain is in a flexible and efficient state to process the difficult thoughts that the patient is focusing on, which in turn allows the memories to lose their potency 2.
  • Relaxation techniques are often taught, allowing patients to better handle difficult feelings in between sessions
  • Many patients say they feel more in control of their emotions and better able to ‘master’ thoughts that have plagued, often for years, giving them a great deal of confidence.

Whilst we do not know exactly how EMDR works, we do know that many patients find it hugely effective.

The World Health Organisation says that EMDR helps people to reduce vivid, unwanted, repeated collections of traumatic events. It is recommended by many international health organisations as an effective treatment for trauma, anxiety and other conditions and is effective for children and adults alike.

For some who have tried a variety of other treatments but still feel ‘stuck’, EMDR can really help.


Clinical Partners have a nationwide team of EMDR specialists

If you think EMDR might be helpful for you, or if you are not sure, you can talk to one of our qualified triage team who will be able to give you advice.

Please call 0203 761 7027 or contact us to request a call back.


How Clinical Partners can help

Sessions take place with a psychiatrist, psychologist or psychotherapist who has received extensive training in EMDR. The process will be explained to you in full; we know it can often be really difficult to talk about traumatic events so the clinician will work at a pace that suits you.

Please contact our Medico Legal Team via our make a referral form

1 Stickgold, R. (2002) EMDR; a putative neurobiological mechanism of action Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58, 61-75
2 Kuiken et al (2001) Eye movement desensitisation reprocessing facilitates attentional orienting Imagination, Cognition and Personality 21;3-20

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