Eye-Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing (EMDR) - Move on from your trauma. Manage your pain. Get on with your life.

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an extremely effective therapy for people with a wide range of problems including depression, 'stuck' grief, anxiety and phobias, and pain. It is also particularly helpful for people who have problems relating to difficult or traumatic memories. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommend EMDR as one of two therapies which are effective in treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is an effective treatment in its own right, although may be used in combination with other approaches in more complex cases.


We all have traumatic experiences during our lives.  The effects can be physical, psychological or a mixture of the two.  Traumas can be major events, such as experiencing violence, sexual assault or childhood abuse, accidents, difficult child birth or miscarriage or war zone conflict and natural disaster. However, less obvious ongoing events might also lead to problems such as bullying at work or school, or living through an emotionally abusive or neglectful relationship. Most of the time, we recover quickly but sometimes the effects of a trauma can stay with us and affect our lives long after the event.  In this case, help may be needed to aid recovery.


Usually, when experiencing the world around us,our eyes, ears and other senses take in information. This information is processed (made sense of) and filed away as memories.  When all goes well, memories have a story-like quality and feel as if they are in the past (which of course they are).

When something dangerous happens, our bodies and brains can respond in a different way.  We recognise the threat and take protective action. Messages can be put into a kind of emergency store in a different part of the brain which can stop them being filed away properly.  

The memories seem to become locked into the brain in their raw form meaning that they can be very upsetting. They can seem to crop up out of the blue causing “flashbacks” or nightmares, where the memory pushes its way in. When this happens it can feel as if the event is happening again.  These problems can make it very difficult to deal with ordinary stressful situations in the calm and reasonable way that we might normally.

What does EMDR involve?

To start with, the therapist will help you learn how to deal with memories when they pop up so that you can bring your focus back to the here and now. You will also learn how to help yourself to relax and feel safe.  When you are ready, therapy moves on to ‘processing’. This involves thinking about the upsetting events and noticing any feelings, bodily sensations and unhelpful thoughts. You will also be asked to come up with a more helpful way to think about the situation. The therapist will ask you to look at their finger or maybe a light on a bar, and follow it back and forth for a short time.  After a few seconds of eye movements, the therapist will stop and ask you to feedback any changes.  Typically you will notice a change in the image, thoughts, feelings, or physical sensations and the therapist will ask you to hold this in mind during another ‘set’ of eye-movements.

Occasionally, you might find that nothing changes during a set. In this instance the therapist might ask some brief questions to get things moving again, but talking is typically limited and once processing re-starts it is best to let the natural healing process do its job.  

When upsetting experiences and feelings are being worked with, it is very important that you feel safe and in control at all times.  You always have the option to stop although it is usually best to try to work through distressing material to allow it to process.  The therapist can use a range of techniques to help with this. Processing continues until the memory is no longer upsetting.  At this point the new, accurate view of the situation is installed using eye-movements until it ‘feels’ true.

Finally, it is often helpful to work on the here-and-now situations which have caused you to feel distressed, which you may have avoided. The therapist will help you to install a ‘future template’ to take into the situation; For example, someone who has avoided driving following an accident might wish to develop an image of driving whilst calm, coping well with hazards.

Is EMDR a form of Hypnosis?

EMDR has nothing to do with hypnotherapy. Although you are asked to follow the therapist's finger with your eyes, you will be fully conscious during therapy. The eye-movements serve two purposes: Firstly, it is helpful to have a focus outside of yourself to help to limit the amount of distress you feel. Secondly, the left-to-right movement known as bi-lateral stimulation (BLS) switches on the processes in the brain which occur during sleep, when we normally process difficult material. 

Other forms of BLS can be used such as sounds or hand taps if eye movements are not suitable.

How long does it take?

The number of sessions depends upon the specific problem and number of memories, However, EMDR tends to process difficult experiences very quickly when compared to other traditional approaches.  The amount of preparation required will vary from client to client. In the majority of cases, the active processing of memories should begin after two or three sessions.

Think EMDR might be helpful?

Get in touch with Graeme to find out more and to arrange a free initial consultation.

Where can I find more information?

For more information on EMDR go to the EMDR UK & Ireland Website at: emdrassociation.org.uk and EMDR Europe at: emdr-europe.org