“The past affects the present even without our being aware of it.”
– Francine Shapiro

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a treatment used, primarily, to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is a treatment which utilises the brains natural coping mechanisms which occur during sleep, more specifically, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

PTSD is a diagnosis which is often given to individuals who have been involved in or who have witnessed a traumatic event. It is common to experience distress and confusion following traumatic events and these feelings may not emerge straight away, although it is normal to experience emotional and physical reactions to such events. However, sometimes these symptoms can last for a longer period of time, or are very extreme. There’s no time limit on distress, and some people may not develop post-traumatic symptoms until many years after the event. Additionally, not everyone who has experienced a traumatic event develops PTSD.

The symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person, although you may experience some of the following.

Reliving aspects of the trauma:

  • Vivid flashbacks (feeling that the trauma is happening all over again)
  • Intrusive thoughts and images
  • Nightmares
  • Intense distress at real or symbolic reminders of the trauma
  • Physical sensations, such as pain, sweating, nausea or trembling.

Alertness or feeling on edge:

  • Panicking when reminded of the trauma
  • Being easily upset or angry
  • Extreme alertness
  • A lack of or disturbed sleep
  • Irritability and aggressive behaviour
  • Lack of concentration
  • Being easily startled
  • Self-destructive behaviour or recklessness.

Avoiding feelings or memories:

  • Keeping busy
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the trauma
  • Repressing memories (being unable to remember aspects of the event)
  • Feeling detached, cut off and emotionally numb
  • Being unable to express affection
  • Using alcohol or drugs to avoid memories.

You may also develop other mental health problems, such as:

  • Severe anxiety
  • A phobia
  • Depression
  • Suicidal feelings.

EMDR, as a treatment option, is based on the idea that your brain has a natural process of managing new information and experiences. When a traumatic event occurs (e.g. a car accident), or you are repeatedly subjected to distress (e.g. childhood neglect), your natural coping mechanisms can become overwhelmed. This overload can often result in information remaining unprocessed and these memories and feelings can remain in a “raw” emotional form, rather than converted into a memory. This traumatic information can remain at the front of your mind and can be easily triggered when you experience events similar to the past trauma. As the information is still unprocessed and strongly connected to emotions and physical sensations, it can feel as if you are reliving the event rather than remembering it.

EMDR helps create the connections between your brain’s memory network, enabling your brain to process the traumatic memory in a natural way, by allowing the event to be processed properly and resolve the impact of the past trauma by allowing you to live more fully in the present.

EMDR is not, however, appropriate for everyone who has experienced a traumatic event, and upon referral you will still undergo an initial assessment before being assessed for suitability for the EMDR approach, with one of our EMDR therapists.

(Adapted from www.mind.org.uk and www.getselfhelp.co.uk)