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The name, EMDR, refers to a psychological therapy
originally known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Its
originator, Dr Francine Shapiro, discovered by accident that disturbing
thoughts she was having seemed to disappear as she moved her eyes in rapid
The approach was developed initially as a treatment for
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and found great success with veterans of
the Vietnam War. In 2000, EMDR was recognised by the International
Society for Traumatic Stress Studies as an effective treatment for PTSD.
The Northern Ireland Department of Health subgroup, CREST, followed suit
in 2003 and the National Institute for Health & Clinical Excellence (NICE) in
the UK in 2005. The
World Health Organisation (2013) now also promotes its use.
Dr Paterson with Dr Shapiro in
California at the training for EMDR Trainers (March 2005)
Today, tens of thousands of therapists worldwide have been
trained in EMDR. At
our therapists are skilled in its use and our team includes EMDR
Europe Approved Consultants; one is also an Approved Trainer. We regularly provide
supervision for existing EMDR therapists and provide training for new
What Happens in EMDR?
When we receive sensory information it passes through an
emotional filter (amygdala) in the right half of the brain. If
there is nothing emotionally-charged, the
information then passes through another structure (hippocampus) that
processes the information for its time and space properties and allows it
to pass to the left hemisphere. This experience is then stored
normally in memory.
However, when incoming sensory information is
emotionally-charged (e.g. traumatic), it gets stuck in the Central Nervous
System (CNS) in the right hemisphere of the brain. It does not get
processed in time and space so, when reminders occur, the stuck memory is
triggered and feels emotionally that it is happening in the present. This
accounts for flashbacks, intrusive thoughts and nightmares.
EMDR therapists help clients reprocess their traumatic
memories by using a process that involves repeated left-right (bilateral)
stimulation of the brain while noticing different aspects of the traumatic
memory. The bilateral stimulation is achieved through either rapid eye
movements across the field of vision, auditory tones or clicks, or
tactile stimulation of alternate sides of the body. It is believed that
the bilateral stimulation of EMDR creates biochemical changes in the brain
that aid processing of information. Theorists suggest that the mode of
action occurs in the Limbic System, where the amygdala and hippocampus are
In EMDR sessions, therapists initially ask their clients to
bring up an image that represents the worst part of the incident for them
now (remember the image is locked in the CNS). They then elicit what
negative thought about the client is triggered by the image: this is a
core belief that has been affected by the experience. Thirdly, the
emotion that is generated by triggering the negative belief is then
ascertained and, finally, where a related sensation is located in the
client’s body is then identified.
Therapists then ask their clients to link together the four
components and then they commence the bilateral stimulation of the brain.
The therapist makes regular checks on what the client is experiencing and
guides them through the process where the client’s brain does the healing,
much like the body healing a cut.
At the end of a session, clients often report that the
experience is “in the past… it’s over”. Other clients report a “spiritual
experience”. Whatever way the experience is described by the client, the
process is effective and rapid compared with other therapies that are in
general use today.