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EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a way of processing difficult, distressing or traumatic memories or future worries using eye movements. If you have ever watched someone sleeping, you may have noticed that their eyes move rapidly left and right during the dream phase of sleep. This rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is a way of processing events and experiences. EMDR simply harnesses this principle. However, instead of being asleep, you bring up a memory or "target" when you're awake, and you consciously move your eyes, as guided by the therapist. Over a number of sessions this allows difficult material to get processed and stored away in the memory. In doing so, the memories lose their negative power. 


Some people come to EMDR because they have had a highly traumatic experience (or experiences) such as being in an accident, witnessing something very shocking, being in a situation where they or a loved one could die, being physically or sexually assaulted or being abused. Their traumatic experiences may have triggered Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) where they experience flashbacks and nightmares, high anxiety, jumpiness and avoidance. In EMDR these are known as 'Big T Traumas'.

However many clients don't have these. Instead they have what are known as 'Small t Traumas' which don't lead to PTSD, but can be just as emotionally impactful and can lead to a range of anxiety and mood problems. Examples of Small t Traumas could include being bullied at school; difficult experiences of illness, surgery or childbirth; being undermined or belittled by a parent, partner or boss; experiencing burnout or moral injury at work; being in a situation where you feel socially humiliated; or having a frightening drug experience or panic attack. These are just a few examples of things that can change how we see ourselves and cause us to live our lives less freely. If you are unsure, we will work together to see how your past experiences may have led to your difficulties. Processing difficult and painful memories has the power to "change the negative script" enabling us to see ourselves much more positively. EMDR can also be used to tackle fears and distress about the future.

A good place to read more about EMDR is the EMDR Association website. You will find downloadable information for clients as well as press reports on EMDR.


If you would like to read the current NICE Guidelines for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (which include a recommendation for EMDR), search for PTSD NICE Guideline NG116. EMDR is referenced in points 1.6.18 to 1.6.20. 

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