The usefulness of Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing – EMDR

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing is such a mouthful that it is easy to understand why we shorten it to EMDR.

What is EMDR and what is it used for?

EMDR is a psychotherapy treatment developed in 1987 by American psychologist Dr Francine Shapiro that can be used to treat symptoms of trauma, PTSD and other disturbing life experiences in both adults and children.

In more recent years its application has been broadened to treat intense experiences of shame, bullying, anxiety, grief and pain management. It can also be used for processing of future events that people may feel anxious or shamed about, like performing in front of an audience, attending a job interview, doing well in sporting events or similar anticipated “performance events”.

EMDR and treating Trauma EMDR is recognised by the US Department of Defense and the American Psychiatric Association as an effective treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Shapiro explains that research at Harvard University has found that EMDR therapy seems to link into the same processes that occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This is the time that dreams take place and the brain processes information.

It is thought that EMDR transfers memory from where it holds the emotions, beliefs and physical reactions that were stored at the time of the original event, into memory networks where the person has processed the experience so that the accurate personal meaning of the event has been extracted and the negative reactions no longer exist.

Traumatic memories come in many types. While some may involve violence and physical abuse, others involve everyday life experiences, such as relationship problems.

Negative experiences can sometimes remain in our memory and start to impact on our mental health and daily lives. EMDR helps reprocess the negative memories so that they become more understandable and less disruptive.

Insights and cognitive changes can sometimes be quite dramatic and rapid. I currently use cognitive behavioural therapy plus EMDR with adults whose problems include relationship issues, adult survivors of child abuse, phobias (ie driving, needle, heights, flying), panic attacks and survivors of violent assaults including rape.

However, the issues don’t have to be dramatic. The more subtle and lingering issues also can respond well to EMDR. I have also found the technique extremely effective with teenagers and children with trauma, anxiety, bullying issues, school difficulties, anger and behavioural problems.


This article was written by Linda Johnson, Clinical Psychologist who is starting at Revive on the 26th of July. She will work on Fridays to start off with.

Please contact us at Revive if you would like to book an appointment with Linda.