What is EMDR?

I offer EMDR therapy as a first line treatment for trauma. This therapy is a highly regarded and evidenced based treatment that gives significant results after a few sessions. My background and experience as a Criminologist has led me to undertake specialist training in this field of trauma and post-traumatic stress. I am fully qualified with a Diploma in EMDR and registered with the GHR (General Hypnotherapy Register) and CNHC (Complementary and Natural Health Care Council).

Development & History

EMDR is a powerful psychological treatment method that was developed by a clinical psychologist, Dr Francine Shapiro. A wealth of research has been conducted demonstrating the benefits of EMDR in treating psychological trauma arising from experiences as diverse as war related experiences, childhood abuse or neglect, natural disaster, assault, road traffic accidents and workplace accidents. Recent research also suggests benefits of using EMDR in treating a number of conditions including anxiety disorders, depression and chronic pain. EMDR has been found to be of benefit to children as well as adults.

Francine Shapiro 

In 1987, a respected American Clinical Psychologist and Researcher, Dr Francine Shapiro, made the chance observation that eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts and feelings under certain conditions. Dr Shapiro studied this scientifically. In the 1989 edition of The Journal of Traumatic Stress, she reported success using EMDR in treating victims of severe trauma. Since then EMDR has developed rapidly, and has been widely researched. It is now used by trained therapists all over the world.

Trauma and the brain

When an individual is traumatised, he/she may experience such strong emotions that their brain becomes overwhelmed. The brain consequently is unable to cope with, or process information as it usually does. Distressing experiences become ‘frozen in time’. Such events are stored in the brain in their original ‘raw’ form and can then be repeatedly remembered as ‘action replays’ or intrusive memories. As a consequence the person repeatedly relives the original unpleasant event/s. Remembering in this way may feel as bad as experiencing it the first time because the images, sounds, smells, and feelings don’t change or process. Such memories have a lasting negative effect on the way a person sees themselves, the world and other people. It can have a profoundly negative effect on all aspects of their lives.

Normally, when we receive sensory information it passes through an emotional filter in our brain called the Amygdala, which is located in the Limbic system of the brain. This information then passes through another structure, the Hippocampus. The Hippocampus processes information for time and space properties and allows it to pass to the left hemisphere of the brain. This experience is then stored in memory and something new is learned.

However, when incoming sensory information is emotionally-charged, for example because of a traumatic event or other very disturbing experience, it gets stuck in the Central Nervous System in the right hemisphere of the brain. This stuck information does not get processed. When reminders of the event occur, the stuck memory is triggered and is emotionally re-experienced in the present. This accounts for flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and nightmares that are common symptoms of PTSD.

EMDR seems to directly influence the way that the brain functions. It helps to restore normal ways of dealing with problems (i.e. information processing). Following successful EMDR treatment, memories of such events are no longer painful when brought to mind. What happened can still be recalled, but it is no longer upsetting. EMDR appears to mimic what the brain does naturally during dreaming or REM (Rapid Eye Movements) sleep. EMDR can be thought of as an inherently natural therapy which assists the brain in working through distressing material utilising a natural process, this is called Adaptive Information Processing.

EMDR Therapy

EMDR therapists help clients reprocess their traumatic memories by using a process that involves repeated left-right (bilateral) stimulation of the brain while noticing different aspects of the traumatic memory. It is believed that the bilateral stimulation of EMDR creates biochemical changes in the brain that aid processing of information. Theorists suggest that the mode of action occurs in the Limbic System, where the Amygdala and Hippocampus are located.

Research studies have shown that EMDR can markedly accelerate the healing process after a traumatic experience and that the effects are long lasting. In fact, there are now more scientifically controlled studies on the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorders with EMDR than with any other form of psychological treatment. EMDR is highly effective, often preferred by clients and generally of shorter duration than other treatment methods.

EMDR Treatment

During EMDR treatment the client attends to emotionally disturbing material in brief sequential doses while simultaneously focusing on an external stimulus. EMDR appears to facilitate the accessing of the traumatic memory network and the information is adaptively processed with new associations being made between the disturbing memory and more adaptive memories or information, leading to more complete information processing, alleviation of emotional and physiological distress and development of cognitive insights.

EMDR is a three-pronged approach involving processing of:
• Past events that have laid the groundwork for dysfunction
• Present circumstances that elicit distress
• Future templates dealing with potentially distressing situations in a more adaptive manner

Treatment may be of benefit to anyone who feels distressed by any of these symptoms or who finds that their life has been changed by overwhelming experiences.
What conditions can be treated with EMDR?
• Post-traumatic Stress Disorder after road accidents; physical or sexual assault, natural disasters or any other life-threatening event;
• Phobias resulting from a traumatic or distressing event e.g. injections, hospital, dental treatment, flying; fear of public speaking;
• Anxiety disorders and panic attacks;
• Grief or loss;
• Stress or sleep problems;
• Depression and low mood disorders;
• Low self-esteem and lack of confidence

EMDR Therapy….what does it involve?

• 8 phases of treatment and attention to 3 time periods – Past. Present. Future
• Sessions are 60-90 minutes. The number of sessions varies with the complexity of the trauma being treated.
• For a single, isolated traumatic event 3 sessions may be sufficient. For multiple trauma (for example, physical, sexual, emotional abuse, combat trauma) many more sessions may be needed for comprehensive treatment.

What is Traumatic Stress?

Traumatic stress is caused by the direct personal experience of distressing life events such as an accident, violence, assault, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, rape, war, torture, disasters etc. If this has happened to you, you may have suffered after-effects which impact upon your sense of safety, wellbeing and control over your life, or which damage your self-esteem and interpersonal relationships.

Many people who have survived traumatic events often find that their views of themselves and/or of other people and the world have changed. They may suffer from irritability, anger and depression or unusual levels of fear and anxiety and often experience difficulty with sleeping. They may also suffer from phobias or panic attacks and have difficulty with social or work performance.

Other possible problems include avoiding activities, people and places that have been enjoyed in the past. Sufferers may become jumpier than usual or have an increased urge to drink alcohol or use drugs, and to possibly self-harm. People who have endured chronic abuse often feel guilty, ashamed and responsible for the abuse. Childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual assault can also contribute to difficulties in sexual relationships.