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What is EMDR therapy and how does it work?

EMDR is an acronym for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

EMDR works by stimulating the brain and body. Leading to the ability to process, unprocessed or unhealed memories. Bringing about a natural restoration and adaptive resolution and  decreased emotional charge (D of EMDR, Desensitization) and a linkage to positive memory networks (R of EMDR, Reprocessing).

EMDR Therapy is a form of psychotherapy and an entire model of therapy. It has been proven to be highly effective for those who have experienced trauma and have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As well as what are called, little “t” traumas. These are distressing events that affect us on a personal level. Examples of little “t” traumas include loss of significant relationships, non-life-threatening injury, emotional abuse and  bullying.

The American psychologist Francine Shapiro created and started developing EMDR therapy in the 1980s. It was a personal discovery – whilst walking in the park, she noticed that moving her eyes from side to side seemed to reduce the her own distressing memories.

She later theorised that trauma causes negative emotions to be stored within the same memory network as a troubling events. And that EMDR, works by re-wiring these connections.

She believed EMDR works because it mimics eye movements during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is known to be the time when our brain  processes memories.

After treatment, people describe memories to become less vivid and more distant, they seem further in the past and harder to focus on.

Process of EMDR Therapy

EMDR facilitates the unblocking and healing of trauma, by employing very specific eight phase treatment plan. These procedures help the client access their brain’s natural healing processes.

The first is client history, followed by a preparation stage. In this phase the relationship between client and therapist is established. A collaborative and safe relationship is paramount to EMDR therapy, as well as all other models of therapy. Helpful tools and techniques are put in place, to prepare and cope with any emotional disturbances that may arise.

Moving onto the other phases will not take place until you and your therapists have assessed your readiness to do so. Honesty from both parties is a very important aspect of this process, clients safety and emotional stability is paramount at the Wellness Rooms.

The bilateral stimulation (BLS) phase is when the therapist will guide the client through eye movement, tapping or tones. These body-based techniques are employed because EMDR is founded on the basis that our emotional wellbeing is interwoven with our physical (somatic) state.

The client broaches on a troubling memory. (This is where this type of therapy differs from other trauma-focused treatments. In that, it does not include prolonged exposure to the distressing memory or a detailed descriptions of the trauma)

The client identifies the belief they have about themselves connected to the negative memory (for example, in dealing with a bullying, the person may believe “I am weak / I should of done something”). The client then formulates a positive/ adaptive belief that they would like to have about themselves in that situation (“I am strong / I did what I could.”).
All the emotions and physical sensations that accompany the memory are also identified.

The client then brings it all together.
Image, negative belief, emotions and body sensations, whilst focusing on an external stimulus that creates bilateral movement. Which in the case of eye movement, maybe the therapists fingers moving from side to side or a light bar.
This stimulates both hemispheres of the brain and moves the memory, that has been incorrectly to a more functional part of the brain.

Then the positive belief which was chosen is installed, via bilateral stimulation, to replace the negative one.

How does EMDR Work?

EMDR Therapy works by changing maladaptive neural networks connected to the memory with the new information of the positive belief. The distressing thoughts and emotions are blended with the new belief, thoughts and emotions and embodied awareness allows frozen sensations in the body to resolve.

This procedure often results in increased insight into long-held negative thoughts or beliefs about the self, which had grown out of the original traumatic event. Leading to an overall peaceful resolution for mind and body.


Is EMDR Therapy Dangerous / Dangers of EMDR therapy?

EMDR is a safe form of therapy with very few side effects. However, because this technique requires recalling a disturbing incident, stability must come first.
Phases 3 – 8 can’t effectively be practiced unless a client has experienced a safe, trusting relationship with their therapist.
At the Wellness Rooms, psychology safety and a therapeutic alliance is the corner stone to all the therapies we offer.

During phase 2 the therapist will also, help the client to learn ways to manage emotional distress during and in between sessions.

EMDR cannot be used to process trauma when a client is actively using alcohol or drugs self-medicate their emotional pain. However, we can offer you an alternative therapy to deal with these issues. Which, if still required, EMDR therapy can be accessed at a later date.

For further information take a look at our EMDR therapy London page.




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