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EMDR | Psychotherapy 

What is EMDR
EMDR is an acronym for ‘Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing’. EMDR is a psychological treatment method that was developed by an American clinical psychologist, Dr Francine Shapiro, in the 1980s. 

EMDR is a powerful and transformational psychotherapy that is recommended by NICE and many other international bodies for the treatment of PTSD. More recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has also endorsed it for the treatment of PTSD in both adults and children, on the back of huge amounts of scientific evidence proving its efficacy. Alongside PTSD there are many published peer reviewed studies showing its effectiveness with a very large range of mental health conditions including phobias, different anxiety disorders, grief, low self-esteem, complex trauma, chronic pain amongst others.

EMDR is not a technique; it is a psychotherapy that provides trained clinicians a number of potential new ways of working with their clients. Many professionals significantly change their clinical practice as they gain more experience in this approach. Some go on to choose it as their main therapeutic modality and others effectively use it alongside their other therapy approaches.

How does it work
When a person is involved in a distressing event, they may feel overwhelmed and their brain may be unable to process the information like a normal memory. The distressing memory seems to become frozen on a neurological level. When a person recalls the distressing memory, the person can re-experience what they saw, heard, smelt, tasted or felt, and this can be quite intense.


Sometimes the memories are so distressing, the person tries to avoid thinking about the distressing event to avoid experiencing the distressing feelings. Distressing memories come to mind when something reminds them of the distressing event, or sometimes the memories just seem to just pop into mind. The alternating left-right stimulation of the brain with eye movements, sounds or taps during EMDR, seems to stimulate the frozen or blocked information processing system.

In the process the distressing memories seem to lose their intensity, so that the memories are less distressing and seem more like ‘ordinary’ memories. The effect is believed to be similar to that which occurs naturally during REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) when your eyes rapidly move from side to side. EMDR helps reduce the distress of all the different kinds of memories.

Video: EMDR youtube clip

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Melanie Cawthorn 

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