EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) is a comprehensive psychotherapy that helps you process and recover from past experiences that are affecting your mental health and wellbeing.

It involves using side to side eye movements combined with talk therapy in a specific and structured format. 

EMDR helps you process the negative images, emotions, beliefs and body sensations associated with traumatic memories that seem to be stuck. These can contribute to a range of mental health problems.

EMDR helps you to see things from a different perspective and relieves the symptoms that you were suffering.

Our member Dr Justin Havens, an EMDR consultant, says: “There can be a dramatic transformation from someone who is constantly reminded of a traumatic memory and all of the negative symptoms, to feeling like it is behind them and not of significance anymore.”

He adds: “EMDR is a way of kickstarting your natural healing and recovery process after your trauma. Your therapist is walking alongside you as you heal from the inside out.”

What can EMDR help with?

EMDR was developed – and is best known – as a therapy for treating trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s recognised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a treatment for PTSD.

But it can be used to help with a range of mental health difficulties including anxiety, depression, addictions, behavioural difficulties, relationship issues and more serious mental illnesses such as psychosis and personality disorders.

Justin says: “Many of these problems may actually be rooted in some kind of trauma, whether that’s someone being bullied, criticised or abused in some way, either during childhood or as an adult, and it isn’t always obvious that this is the case.”

How does EMDR work?

EMDR has a specific structure and a therapist will work through several stages with you. These include assessment of your current symptoms and your readiness for EMDR, as well as understanding how your past has shaped your present.

The therapist will also explain why you’re experiencing your current symptoms, and how trauma affects the mind and seems like it will never go away.

“One of the first stages is understanding how the person has got to be this way and what happened to them," says Justin. "What patterns have past events created, and what traumatic memories need to be processed to help them recover.

“We help prepare clients for the processing of traumatic memories. This can be a very powerful therapy and it's very important that client safety comes first.”

The next part of the therapy involves accessing the traumatic memories and starting bilateral stimulation. This involves stimulating either side of your brain in an alternating left-right fashion to help you access your subconscious mind and process what is stored in there and how it affects you.

This can be achieved by either making eye movements from side to side, listening to sounds in headphones that alternate from one ear to the other, or by tapping either side of your body. The eye movements may be similar to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which take place as we dream.

“Working in this way means we can reprocess the emotion-laden memories.

“The duel-attention focus means clients are anchored in the present, but also have one foot in the past.”

Your therapist helps kickstart your natural healing process which replaces the negative or traumatic images or memories. You can view them in a different way so they don’t feel distressing anymore.

Says Justin: “Someone can tell you that your negative belief about yourself is not true, but you need to know that for yourself. With EMDR, the change in perspective comes from within and the transformative changes feels true at a gut level. There can be a remarkable change in how people feel, from feelings of terror or shame to calmness and empowerment.”

Sometimes people only need around six sessions of EMDR therapy for it to make a dramatic difference, although some clients with more complex issues will require more. 

How to choose an EMDR therapist

EMDR requires specific training and specialist skills to deliver it safely and competently.

Justin is a member of the EMDR Association UK which accredits EMDR therapists. Therapists who wish to train in EMDR must already be accredited by professional bodies such as BACP.

You can see what specific EMDR training and qualifications a therapist has by checking their website, the EMDR Association UK website or our Therapist directory - or ask them when you make your initial enquiry.

More about EMDR