Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR)

In a nutshell

This therapy stimulates the brain using left-to-right eye movements (or similar) to help you process traumatic memories and stop them from invading your thoughts.   

Recommended for treating

Post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD.

How it works

EMDR is designed to help you deal with traumatic experiences (anything from a car accident, personal attack to a terrorist incident). It works on the principal that after a terrifying event your brain is overwhelmed and stops processing memories and information properly. Rather than just recalling the event you find yourself re-living it in an intense way.

An EMDR therapist will get to know your history and may ask you to do some relaxation exercises. During EMDR the therapist will use alternating left-right stimulation of the brain while you are talking and describing the distressing memories. This stimulation of the left and right sides of the brain is done by using left-right eye movements (you might follow the therapist’s finger from left to right or use a light bar) or by using sounds or taps (through headphones) or bilateral stimulation (tapping your left hand then right hand) to stimulate this information-processing part of the brain which is "frozen" and unable to process the bad memories.

EMDR helps to reduce the distress of these memories including the sights, sounds and smells etc that go with them. You are not asleep or hypnotised during EMDR you are awake and in control the whole time.

How to get it:

  • EMDR is an evidenced-based therapy that has shown to be effective and may be available on the NHS in some specialist centres.

  • If it is not readily available via the NHS you can find a qualified, private therapist at the EMDR association.