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What can I expect from EMDR therapy?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) was developed by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s and evolved from her observations of how eye movements can reduce the intensity of disturbing thoughts. Extensive research has continued to show it's effectiveness in alleviating symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and other trauma-related disorders. It is also highly effective for depression, anxiety, phobias, low self confidence and so many of life's challenges. As a result, mental health professionals increasingly adopt EMDR into their practice. Media coverage and endorsements helped make more people aware of the therapy, solidifying EMDR's status as a leading trauma therapy. For example, Prince Harry revealed that EMDR has been a great help to him.

The video here shows him performing something called Bi-Lateral Stimulation, or BLS, on himself as he seems to be conducting his session online, with his therapist not being present in the room. However, most EMDR practitioners, including myself, work in person, and therefore the way that the BLS is delivered can be a little different.

But let's start at the beginning and give you an idea of the EMDR therapy experience from start to finish, if we were to work together.

Before I expect you to commit to anything, we will have an initial consultation where I can gather some information from you about how you are struggling and also if you know what may be the cause. Some people have a very clear idea on what may be behind how they are feeling, but many do not. This will also be an opportunity for me to explain a little more about EMDR and the benefits that can come from effective treatment. This would also be a time for you to gauge whether you feel comfortable with me as your EMDR therapist, which I consider is also vital in the process. There is no charge for the initial chat and there will be no expectation to make any decisions there and then.

If you decide to go ahead, then we arrange a session of 'history taking and preparation'. This will be where I gather more detail about you and your life, especially the parts that may be considered 'traumatic'. When people hear the word 'trauma' they can easily dismiss their own experiences or trivialise them because it is often assumed that 'trauma' only applies to people that have been to war or were abused earlier in their life. But trauma comes in many forms and even though a person may be reluctant to admit that something in their past should be classified as a 'trauma', they may be more comfortable in admitting that it was 'traumatic'.

As mentioned previously, EMDR is not only effective for trauma related problems, but a whole range of issues, so this first session is geared towards really trying to dig into what could be at the root of things. Whatever it is that you're struggling with, we want to try to make sure that when we start the EMDR sessions, we are really targeting the things that will make a difference.

The next session will be when you first experience the BLS (Bi-Lateral Stimulation). I offer a range of options, such as the self tapping, eye movement, headphones or hand held pulsators. Whichever method feels most comfortable, the aim is the same. Whether it is tapping, watching a moving finger, alternating sounds in the left and right ear or vibrations from one hand to the other, we are stimulating the left and right side of the brain alternately.

As each side of the brain is stimulated, this sets up new connections between the sides. Imagine that new pathways are being created that link the two sides of the brain. As these pathways are created, this allows for information in the brain to move around in ways it was not able to before. And this is where amazing things can happen.

If you imagine someone that has suffered a trauma in their past but it still affects them now, the likely reason for this is that the original event has not been 'processed' and they are being 'triggered'. So let's look at what this means.

We have many things happen every single day. Some of them more important than others, but at the end of the day, think of the brain, when you are asleep, doing all the admin work for the day's events. Paperwork is collated and everything is filed neatly away. Everything makes sense and it's all processed very nicely. No problems.

However, what if something more troubling happened? What if the brain can't actually figure this out satisfactorily while you're asleep? Well, this could lead to some mental and perhaps physical discomfort the next day or even for a few days after, as the brain tries to make sense of everything that happened, what it all means and how we feel about it. However, even these things are generally processed eventually and all packed away.

But sometimes, an event or series of events, is too much to process. It can become 'stuck'. It has not been neatly filed away and all the paperwork is untidy, with large parts missing altogether. The meaning of this event is not clear in the brain. This can lead to distorted views or inaccurate ways of seeing things. This can mean there is now an opportunity to be triggered.

Being triggered means that there is something happening now that reminds us of that original event. In fact it appears to resemble that event so closely, the brain mistakenly thinks that it's all happening again, which is likely to bring up many of those same feelings, such as fear, anxiety, and the whole 'fight, flight or freeze' response. When the brain takes in this information, returns to the file on the original event and and examines the information, remember, it wasn't processed. It wasn't nicely filed away. It was incomplete. There were pieces missing. So the brain is going to conclude that this present situation poses a real threat. Just like the first time it happened.

EMDR therapy, by creating these new connections, allows new information to be included with that original unprocessed memory. Now you can add information such as, "this is not the same person, or the same place", "I was not to blame", "I have shown myself to be a stronger person than I was then", "I know I am loved", "It was not my fault", "I am safe".

When the original event is filed away with the new relevant information, this creates a new understanding of the situation. It's as if when you return to the file relating to the original event and go through all the paperwork, you come to a different conclusion. It means something different. This new, more accurate set of data will likely change how you react in the situation now. The fear and anxiety may not be as strong, if it's even there at all.

I, as your EMDR therapist, will not be inserting new information into your head. You will be gathering the information that's already in there and arranging the paperwork into the files in the correct way, maybe for the first time ever.

Occasionally, clients report significant changes in the way they feel after one single session of EMDR, but more commonly it will take a number of sessions. However, what is for sure is that for trauma related problems, EMDR therapy can produce positive results in significantly shorter timeframes than more conventional types of therapy.

For more information or to arrange your initial consultation, visit

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