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  • Writer's pictureArmele Philpotts MBACP

What is EMDR?

You might have heard of EMDR from an article or maybe it's been mentioned by a friend or therapist. You probably know that EMDR was originally developed as a treatment for PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and believe that it's got something to do with someone waving their finger in front of your eyes.

The first bit is true, but EMDR is now used to treat many forms of psychological distress as we understand more about how it can be used to process trauma and increase wellbeing. This makes sense if we think of Gabor Mate's definition of 'trauma'.

'In my definition, it’s not what happens to you externally that defines the trauma but what happens internally to you as a result of it.' Gabor Mate *

The second bit can be true, some EMDR therapists do ask clients to move their eyes from side to side in the processing stage, and the name of the therapy is officially 'Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing', but it's also possible to use tapping on each side or listening to sounds in each ear using stereo headphones. This is called bilateral stimulation (BLS for short).

The principle behind EMDR therapy is that in the same way as our bodies somehow know how to heal a grazed knee as long as we keep it clean and dry, they also know how to process psychological wounds given the right conditions.

When these wounds remain unhealed they affect our ability to experience our day to day, so maybe we're noticing emotional responses that are confusing, out of step or out of proportion with what is going on in our present.

In EMDR rather than the therapist taking an expert position on a person's lived experience we focus on being experts in supporting people to notice and process their unhealed wounds so that they stop affecting the here and now.

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