What is Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)?

What is it for?
EMDR is an evidence-based psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. This may include PTSD, anxiety, depression, and panic disorders.
EMDR aims to reprocess negative life events and help clients access and believe a more positive views of themselves and the world.

What will it look like in session?
During an EMDR session the clinician helps the client to revisit traumatic events and connect with the associated thoughts, feelings, and sensations. The client will then use their eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision. The clinician then works to move the client to more positive thoughts, helping the client to reduce the negative and distressing feelings associated with the event. Around 3- 12 sessions may be required to effectively address trauma.

How does it work?
There are 4 main theories regarding the mechanisms of EMDR.

  1. It relates to the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.
  2. Engaging in two things simultaneously (eye movements and thinking of a negative memory) overloads working memory capacity. As a result, performance on the primary task declines, and the quality of the targeted trauma memory deteriorates.
  3. Our innate threat detecting system adjusts to a non-threatening stimulus (e.g. the clinician’s hand movements) and dearousal occurs.
  4. By creating neurobiological changes that aid in information processing.

What’s the evidence?
EMDR therapy is recognized as an effective form of treatment for trauma and other disturbing experiences by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense following the multitude of studies on it.

Mikalha George, Psychologist