Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – Björg Sigríður Hermannsdóttir

What is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocession (EMDR)?

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a form of psychotherapy that was developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro in the 1980s. The effectiveness of EMDR has been researched extensively in recent years and EMDR is currently one of the main recommended approaches to treating survivors of trauma. The approach has also been found to be helpful in treating people with phobias, anxiety, depression, and anger difficulties.

What type of trauma or distressing experiences does EMDR help with?

EMDR can be an effective way to reduce distress related to childhood abuse experiences, bullying, physical and sexual assaults, accidents, war experiences, disasters, and distressing events that a person may have witnessed. It can also be helpful in addressing phobic fears and catastrophic worries about scenarios that have not yet happened.

Why would it help to reprocess past experiences?

When a person is involved in a traumatic or distressing event, the brain can have difficulties processing the experience fully. This can result in prolonged or recurrent distress, such as anxiety, low mood, anger, distressing memories, nightmares, and other emotional difficulties, sometimes years and even decades after the event itself took place. At times, this distress can cause a person to avoid certain activities or situations, react strongly to reminders of the traumatic events, or experience difficulties in relationships, work life, and daily activities. Many people who experience distress related to past events have benefitted from EMDR, as it has been found to reduce the negative impact of difficult memories.

What happens in EMDR therapy?

Prior to starting EMDR therapy, the clinician will ask about current difficulties and past history to get a good understanding of what may have contributed to the problem. Sometimes people may feel uncomfortable or unable to discuss the specifics of past distressing events and one of the advantages of EMDR is that people can benefit from the therapy without disclosing exactly what happened in the past. In an EMDR therapy session, the client and therapist will agree on which distressing memories to address and then use rapid eye movements or left-right tapping/sounds to facilitate the reprocessing of those memories so that they may lose some or all of their emotional intensity. The left-right stimulation of the brain has been found to play an important role in preventing a person from becoming overwhelmed with distress and in helping them move through distressing memories that may have previously felt “locked” or “frozen”. The aim of EMDR therapy is for those memories to lose their negative power so that they can be remembered in a similar way to ordinary memories.