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EMDR therapy

What does EMDR mean?

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing.  It is a psychotherapy designed for working with traumatic or emotionally distressing memories.  It is often one of the preferred therapies to treat PTSD and c-PTSD.


The theory behind EMDR is that many emotional or psychological difficulties are the result of

distressing life experiences which have not been able to be stored in our memory properly so they become ‘unprocessed’ or ‘blocked’. 


The aim of EMDR is to change the way memories associated with traumatic experiences are stored in the body and mind and alter the emotions and thoughts which have resulted from that initial experience.  


EMDR uses eye movement or other forms of left to right actions known as bi-lateral stimulation (BLS).

What is bi-lateral stimulation (BLS)?

This is the process of alternately stimulating the left and right sides of the brain.  This can be offered in different ways:


  • Visual - following lights on a light bar or finger movements from left/right or up/down

  • Auditory - wearing headphones and listening to alternate tones

  • Tactile - tapping on the knees/palms or holding hand buzzers that vibrate alternately


BLS is expected to help you:

  • apply ‘dual attention’ which means being aware of the BLS and the target memory at the same time

  • feel a sense of relaxation by sending calming signals to the central nervous system 

  • increase attentional flexibility (this means helping to stop fixations on specific thoughts)

  • create a distancing effect - bad experiences feel smaller, further away or neutral

  • have a more effective processing of memories due to the whole brain being engaged

  • replicate the REM stage of sleep which supports the proper filing of memories into our long-term memory banks


BLS ensures both sides of our brain are processing the target memory so it does not get stuck in either feelings or logic.


Note - I can offer visual using finger movements; tactile through tapping or hand-held buzzers or auditory through Bluetooth headphones

How does it work?

To answer this, it's helpful to understand a little bit about what happens around memory when we are exposed to traumatic situations.


Memory and trauma

When we are in a threatening situation, the part of our brain that deals with our emotions becomes completely cut off from the part that acts in cognitive ways (functioning, reasoning, thinking). 


In a traumatic situation, this means that the event is stored incompletely, in fragments.  

Traumatic memories are not connected with the centres in our brain for time, language or logic.  This is why it can be hard for us to find words to talk about them or separate when we are activated in the present time but are actually safe.


Bi-lateral stimulation helps the brain to connect the fragments of memories and recognise them as being in the past.  Gradually this transforms the fragmented memory into a whole one.  The emotional and cognitive parts of the brain are linked and work actively together to deal with the traumatic event.

Trauma memories are stored differently

Every day memories are stored by a part of the brain called the Hippocampus.  

If you can imagine the Hippocampus to be a bit like a librarian; it routinely catalogues experiences and events and files them away in the right place. However, when we live through traumatic events, they are so overwhelming that the Hippocampus is prevented from doing its  usual job properly.  When this happens these memories are stored in a raw, unprocessed form.  This means they are easily activated (often mistakenly) and repeatedly cause intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and distress.

Identifying whether you are dealing with trauma

Trauma is when we experience stressful, distressing or very frightening events that are difficult to cope with or are out of our control.  This can be a one-off incident or something that happened multiple times, or over a long period of time.  


There is no rule about what experiences are traumatic, this is personal to you  


Other people can’t know how you feel about your own experiences or if they’re traumatic for you - you may have similar experiences to someone else, but be affected differently or for longer

If you'd like to know more, pop over to the FAQs section for EMDR.

Past, present and future

EMDR is based on a 3 Pronged Protocol and attention is directed to three time periods.  The objective is to change the way thoughts and memories are stored in the body and alter the emotions and thoughts that have resulted from that initial traumatic experience:











When we allow the brain to properly re-process PAST traumatic events, it enables management of PRESENT triggers and activations, which enables the development of FUTURE templates to help us deal with potentially disturbing situations that may arise. 

There are 8 parts to EMDR, known as the 8 Phase Protocol.  To find out more, click here to be taken to the page which explains what you can expect from each of these phases.

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