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Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy

- EMDR -


EMDR is a therapy that was initially aimed at alleviating distress associated with trauma-related experiences and memories. It is based on the adaptive information processing model which suggests that the therapy aids in accessing and processing traumatic memories or other significant life experiences and distressing emotions.

This treatment approach involves attending to emotionally distressing and disturbing material in short phases while focusing on external stimulus provided by the therapist. 

This is achieved most commonly through the client being asked to use their eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision (these lateral eye movements are assumed to aid in reprocessing the way these memories are stored in the brain).  The aim is to reduce physiological arousal, provide relief from emotional distress, and for negative beliefs to be reformulated. 


Treatment Phases

Phases 1-6: handling emotional distress and processing target memories


Phase 1:  history-taking and identifying possible targets for EMDR processing (i.e. distressing memories and current situations that cause emotional distress)


Phase 2:  working on ways of handling emotional distress (e.g. imagery and stress reduction techniques) 


Phases 3-6:  Identifying and processing the target memories – this involves identifying a vivid visual image related to the memory, a negative belief about self, and related emotions and body sensations. The client focuses on these while simultaneously engaging in EMDR processing using sets of bilateral stimulation (e.g. eye movements). 


The aim is to process the memory until no further distress is experienced; then the client focuses on a preferred positive belief while processing the next set of distressing events.

Treatment Phases

Phases 7 and 8: consolidating learning and reviewing progress


Phase 7:  client keeps a log that documents any related material that may come up – the aim is to remind the client of the self-calming activities that were mastered earlier.


Phase 8:  examines progress experienced in previous phases. EMDR procedures are then utilised to process all related historical events, current incidents that elicit distress, and future events that will require different responses.


The overall aim is for clients to gain insights through their own accelerated intellectual and emotional processes, feeling empowered by the very experiences that once debased them, and having their wounds transformed.