Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a technique for working with distressing or traumatic memories. It was developed in 1989 by American psychologist Dr Francine Shapiro, and has a solid base of research for its effectiveness.
After a preparation process, the client is asked to hold a distressing memory in their mind, while allowing their eyes to follow the fingers of the therapist moving from side to side (‘bilateral stimulation’), in repeated sets of about 30 seconds. Typically, by the end of an EMDR session the memory elicits minimal distress.
Although the exact neurological mechanism of EMDR has not been established, it is thought that this process allows the memory to be stored as a ‘normal’ memory in the hippocampus, rather than as a traumatic memory which triggers anxious reactions. Multiple sessions may be indicated, especially for severe trauma; however, not all clients are suited to this technique.
Over 50 hours of therapist training and supervision is required to become an EMDR practitioner. EMDR is endorsed by many international bodies including the World Health Organisation, as well as the Phoenix Australia Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health.
EMDR Association of Australia: https://emdraa.org
Written by David Warmington, Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Team Leader at Seed Psychology.