What is it?

Many people may have experienced a traumatic event in their lives which is impacting on their current mood. Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy specifically for people experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD may occur when there has been exposure to actual or threatened:

  • death
  • serious injury
  • sexual violence

This exposure can be :

  • direct, the event happened to you
  • witnessed, you saw the event happen to someone else
  • indirect, such as hearing of a relative or friend who has experienced the event
  • repeated or extreme indirect exposure, you hear about repeated events happening to someone else

After such an event, you may be experiencing intrusive thoughts, memories or nightmares, flashbacks in which it feels like the event is happening again or an increase in being startled, difficulty sleeping or difficulty concentrating. You may also notice negative thoughts about yourself and the world, a sense of blame, feelings of horror, shame or sadness that won’t go away, memory problems, lack of interest in activities and feeling detached, isolated and disconnected from other people. These experiences can be very distressing and have a serious impact on your mood.

EMDR focusses on trying to reduce the emotional distress caused by the traumatic event. PTSD can cause a problem with how the brain processes information; the brain is unable to tell you that this event is in the past, so you feel the same way as you did when the event happened. EMDR works to change the way that the brain processes information so that you no longer re-live the images, sounds, and feelings when the event is brought to your mind. You still remember what happened, but it is less upsetting.

Why do we do it?

EMDR therapy is recognized as an effective and recommended treatment for PTSD worldwide. In Britain the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends trauma-focussed therapy, such as EMDR, as more suitable for treating PTSD than any medication. Research suggests that the positive effects as a result of EMDR are long term.

Who is it for?

EMDR can be a distressing process due to the difficult content raised during trauma work so will not be suitable for everyone.

EMDR is suitable for those people who:

  • Are motivated and willing to engage with therapy for trauma at this time
  • Have stable circumstances to explore traumatic events without becoming overwhelmed
  • Are able to manage with the potential distress of re-living traumatic events
  • Have a wider support network of friends or family
  • Are not using substances such as alcohol or recreational drugs

What does it involve?

EMDR involves meeting with a specially trained therapist face to face, in a course of around eight sessions. These sessions usually last around fifty minutes and are generally spread across a number of weeks.

After the therapist has determined which memory to focus on, you will be asked to hold different aspects of that event or thought in mind and to use your eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across your field of vision.  As this happens, you will begin to process the memory and disturbing feelings that come with it and the emotional distress reduces.

If the therapy is successful, the memory and disturbing feelings will be changed on an emotional level. You may find your feelings shift from horror and self-blame to confidence in your inner strength and ability to overcome the traumatic event itself.

What is required?

  • Commitment to attending sessions
  • Stable support network away from sessions
  • Feel ready and willing to relive traumatic events from the past


If you think that EMDR could help you with your current difficulties, talk to your GP or self refer to the service on 0203 228 1350.