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ManageMinds Explains... EMDR Therapy

Join us as we explore one of the most talked about therapies of the moment: EMDR therapy. Here's what you need to know!

Close up of a human eye

Welcome to another edition of ManageMinds Explains! This month, we’re going to look at a form of therapy that is becoming increasingly popular: EMDR therapy. Our quick guide will cover what it is, how it works and who it may be suitable for.

Let’s get started!

What is EMDR therapy?

EMDR stands for eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing. This sounds very complex, but the theory behind it is actually quite straightforward. It is a form of talking therapy that was developed in the late 1980s by Dr Francine Shapiro.

EMDR therapy is used to allow clients to repeatedly explore traumatic memories, thoughts or beliefs in order to reframe them in a way that reduces their impact on the person’s wellbeing.

It is recognised by authorities like the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an effective treatment for certain psychological conditions, like PTSD.

How does it work?

The foundation of EMDR therapy is the notion that bilateral stimulation (like eye movements) can reduce the distress caused when a person revisits difficult memories. This is really important, because a lot of mental health conditions stem from unprocessed traumatic memories, but accessing them can cause a client to feel that they are reliving the trauma all over again.

If we asked you to conjure up a stereotypical image of a hypnotist, chances are you’re picturing a person waving a watch back and forth in front of the subject’s face. As it turns out, this approach is not as silly as it seems!

These types of movements stimulate different sides of the brain in an alternating pattern, which therapists believe promotes access to the unconscious brain, while reducing the emotional intensity of the experience. EMDR therapists are unlikely to use a pocket watch to draw your focus—they'll probably just ask you to follow their finger with your eyes. Bilateral stimulation can also be achieved by tapping certain parts of the body or playing sounds that alternate between one ear and the other.

What is it used to treat?

model of the human brain with different colours used for different sections

As EMDR therapy is designed to address issues related to past experiences, it is particularly effective at treating conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The treatment is usually carried out over 6-12 sessions and the process is structured in phases:

EMDR therapy is suitable for mental health issues ranging from mild to severe. It has risen in popularity in the last few years, potentially in part due to endorsements from celebrities like Sandra Bullock and Prince Harry.

How can I access EMDR therapy?

As it is a very specific form of therapy, EMDR has to be performed by a therapist who is specially trained in this area. Thankfully, as it is a widely-recognised and effective form of therapy, you should be able to find an EMDR therapist fairly easily.

You can contact ManageMinds if you would like us to match you with an EMDR therapist. To find in-person EMDR therapy options in your local area, we recommend talking to your GP.

That concludes our quick guide to EMDR therapy. For more mental health information and advice, including guides to other forms of therapy, such as DBT, take a look around the ManageMinds Blog.

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