EMDR was originally developed as a treatment for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or unresolved trauma. Since its development, ample research has been published to support its effectiveness - not only in the treatment of trauma, but a range of other difficulties.
EMDR is believed to be similar to the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) we experience during sleep. During REM sleep, our mind processes memories and this can be understood as a natural coping to deal
with difficult situations and feelings.
EMDR therapy works by re-creating these eye movements manually. This can be done in different ways, but usually your therapist will move his/her fingers or hand back and forth across your visual field. Eye movements can also be created using a 'light bar', in which you follow a light that moves back and forth across a metal bar.
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 is then faced with a similar situation or with something that reminds them of this event (consciously or unconsciously), they might feel or react in a very similar and might be overwhelmed with distressing feelings. Some even report that they even re-experience certain smells, tastes or flashbacks and this can be quite intense. People will often try to avoid certain situations or thinking about the distressing event in order to avoid these overwhelming feelings.
The alternating left-right stimulation of the brain with eye movements during EMDR, seems to stimulate the frozen or blocked information processing system. It helps your brain to store the information in a more manageable and helpful way so that the memories are less distressing and seem more like 'ordinary' memories.
Clients report that the distressing memories seem to lose their emotional intensity and they stop having nightmares, flashbacks and do no longer feel constrained and affected by the experiences in a negative way. In contrast, clients often find new ways of making use of their experience and remember other aspects, which help them to grow as a person and to put the distressing memory to rest.
EMDR is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as an effective treatment for PTSD.
If you would like to find out more about EMDR, please visit the EMDR UK & Ireland Website, which is the leading organisation for EMDR in the UK. The website has some useful information, including what EMDR therapy is like, its effectiveness and how to find an EMDR therapist.