EMDR - Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing and Trauma or Abuse

IT IS A GREAT pity that so few people have heard of this powerful cutting edge therapy. I hope to play a small part in spreading the word.

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EMDR - Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing and Trauma or Abuse

I'll explain what it is further down the page but first I'll say what it can do for you.

In a sentence EMDR has the potential to get to the root of your difficulties and help eradicate them from your body and mind in a way that prevents them from returning ever again. Whilst it’s been demonstrated to help very effectively to clear the effects of trauma and post-traumatic stress (PTSD), it can also be used for other issues where the symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, stress and panic have emerged and you can’t seem to control these feelings any more. You may well find yourself either avoiding people or places and withdrawing emotionally, or overreacting in certain situations, possibly with excessive anger or tears, fear or worry, and your personal and work relationships start to suffer. If so, you may have suffered trauma at some time in your life.

Trauma can mean different things to different people. One thing that traumatises one person may not traumatise another. It can mean one major life event or it can be a complex situation of many smaller events repeated over and over again such as childhood abuse. However, even having a critical parent as a child can trigger the formation of difficult feelings and negative beliefs which, if unresolved, tend to surface later when we reach certain points in adulthood. (Of course, our parents may have struggled themselves as children and unfortunately lacked the resources to parent in the best way possible).

Although we hide those early negative beliefs and feelings away for self protection as children, decades later a stressful life event or even a close relationship can, unconsciously, bust open the old buried wounds. Positive self esteem formed in childhood equates to greater resilience in adulthood when faced with difficult issues. In general the more of our needs are met in childhood the greater our sense of self-worth and resilience.

If you are someone who has experienced repeated traumas, particularly in childhood, those experiences can often lead to a struggle with anxiety, depression, poor sleep or worse - panic attacks – in adult life. It maybe you cannot understand why you’re reacting in this way now when the trauma is all over and in the past - especially when you’ve been so capable or resourceful in much of your adult life. However, it has been shown that emotionally unresolved past experiences which have accumulated unconsciously over the years really can be triggered by a current stressful life event. Once the flood gates are opened emotional overload ensues and suddenly you can’t cope so effectively anymore. You may not even realise what the old events were until an EMDR therapist helps you to find them.

EMDR is a powerful therapeutic intervention for clearing the ill effects of both major traumas and repeated mini traumas stored in the body and the mind. It can be used as a tool within the context of other therapies or as a standalone therapy in its own right.

EMDR was originally found to be highly successful for people suffering from PTSD following extreme life-threatening experiences where death was imminent such as soldiers returning from war zones or victims of natural disasters. This fact gives an indication of just how powerful and effective it can be. It is now often used to help people who have experience childhood exploitation and abuse.

The acronym stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. It is both a mouthful and a misnomer but the name had stuck until it became too late to change it! The name was devised by the originator of the process about some 25 years ago. Her name is Dr Francine Shapiro - an American psychologist.

One of the main hallmarks of EMDR is its use of bilateral stimulation. That means that the brain is activated on alternating left - right - left sides by various means via the body. This can be by moving the eyes from right to left, by playing a simple sound in alternating ears or by tapping gently on different sides of the body such as on alternative knees, shoulders or the hands. Some therapists use equipment especially designed for this purpose. The bilateral stimulation is thought to help the brain to process information which has got stuck due to emotional and sensate overload at the time of either one major traumatic event or several events where there’s a similarity of significance over time. Dr Shapiro called this innate healing behaviour Adaptive Information Processing (AIP).

In fact, EMDR is an eight-stage, three-pronged protocol. This can take place over just two or three sessions if working on a single issue but, if very deep-rooted the processing takes place over months or years. If several different issues, whether troubling feelings or specific memories, are discovered as being problematic then the protocol may be used several times over to cover each issue or unpleasant memory or cluster of memories. Here is an overview of the eight stages:

  • A thorough background history taking,
  • Inner resource building also known as the preparation and stabilisation phase,
  • Target assessment,
  • Desensitisation or processing of the issue stored in the person’s memory, using bi-lateral stimulation of the brain (which I explain more in the paragraph below). If, at this stage, a client finds the processing too difficult sometimes the therapist will interweave suitable questions or techniques to help unblock the processing.
  • Positive belief installation,
  • Body scan,
  • Closure and
  • Re-evaluation by testing a current life experience or a future imagined similar event.

EMDR is evidence based and recommended treatment of choice in the NICE guidelines (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) and WHO (World Health Organisation) particularly for trauma and PTSD but there is plenty of empirical evidence in clinical settings showing its success in clearing other problems.

Appropriate EMDR practitioners are fully qualified mental health professionals who have undertaken further training in EMDR. The standard of training in this therapy is upheld in the UK by the professional body called EMDR Association UK & Ireland which is part of EMDR Europe.

Linda Newbold

Life can be a struggle at the best of times. I hope that what I offer can help you to resolve your struggle. I do my best to offer you calm and kind attention with a responsive relationship style. Working together collaboratively can increase your chances of an effective outcome greatly. I can offer you a wealth of experience in Counselling and Psychotherapy accumulated over 30 years. I have collected a rich mix of ideas and creative ways of working from many training courses and continuous professional development in that time. My interest in learning cutting edge tools for change is as keen as it has always been, and I am enthusiastic about continuing to do so. I work with most issues which you might find a problem. My particular interest today lies in resolving the effects of trauma and PTSD and working with an awareness of the mind-body connection and how each may be healed by working through the mind. There are styles of therapy which focus more on one angle than the other (body or mind). I find that EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing) works extremely well with both and is an extremely powerful and effective method of healing for all kinds of issues. I look forward to hearing from you so that we jointly have the satisfaction which comes from helping you to resolve your difficulties.


Go to the profile of Fe Robinson, Psychotherapist
almost 5 years ago
What an excellent explanation of EMDR Linda, thank you for sharing this. Like you I find it a highly effective treatment for a range of clients.
Go to the profile of Suzi Howey
almost 5 years ago
What a really great explanation of EMDR. Being an EMDR Practioner I'm always looking for ways to explain what it is without bamboozling people with neuroscience and professional 'speak'. Thank you.
Go to the profile of Linda Newbold
almost 5 years ago
Thank you both Fe and Suzie for your kind comments. I'm glad it was a helpful article.