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What is EMDR therapy?

EMDR therapy or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, is a contemporary psychotherapy therapy which aims to reduce the distressing emotions which are symptomatic of traumatic experiences.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends EMDR therapy be used as a treatment for adults and children with PTSD.

EMDR therapy can dissolve intense emotions associated with a memory. During a traumatic event, the brain can fail to process the experience which normally would allow the memory to be resolved in the mind and be filed away, eventually fading as time passes.

However, during a traumatic experience the cognitive brain can shut down and this prevents the memory from being processed, and instead leaving it stuck and attached to extremely painful emotions. A therapist educated in EMDR therapy can use bilateral stimulation to distract the working memory, which then allows the usual processing to occur. This then leaves the client with a memory that is not so painful and which can be filed away and forgotten.

How effective is EMDR?

Extensive research has proven how successful and reliable EMDR therapy is. One study carried out by Dr. Van der Kolk found that after only three EMDR sessions “8 out of the twelve clients had shown a significant decrease in their PTSD scores”(Van Der Kolk, p. 256).

A course of EMDR therapy is usually weekly sessions run over a course of six weeks.


  • Treatment Planning

    • A thorough and detailed client history should be conducted by the therapist which will help with planning the client’s treatment.


  • The therapist supports the client in learning how to manage their intense emotions by teaching them to regulate their sympathetic nervous system with grounding, breathing and relaxation techniques. This is the first and a vital step which enables the client to calm themselves during or after sessions when needed. Sometimes the client may have a traumatic memory they have hidden away so well that they are not aware of it. This might even be unconsciously triggering and causing them emotional pain. Though it happens rarely, if one of these blocked memories appears unexpectedly in session, to avoid the client becoming re-traumatized they need to be able to emotionally regulate themselves.


  • The therapist and client explore negative core beliefs which may be connected to the traumatic memory. The process of mapping allows the therapist to gain great insight into exactly what event or memory should be cleared first. Often clearing a particular core event or memory will have a domino effect and resolve a lot of other memories at the same time.


  • This is the easy part, where the client simply holds the memory in mind and tracks the therapist’s finger back and forth with their eyes or taps their body in a bilateral fashion.


  • Once the intensity of the memory is below level 2, the client is then guided in the process of stacking the deck. Stacking the deck is a process of imprinting positive core beliefs :)

Body Scan

  • Finally a physical check is carried out to see if there is any tension left in the body which gives the therapist an idea of whether to repeat the process. The process can be repeated anywhere from three to twenty times depending on the individual's experience.


  • The end of the session usually commences once the memory is reduced in intensity to at least a 2. However, if the memory hasn’t been reduced, the therapist will guide the client in calming exercises to ground them. They will then guide the client through a process of storing away the memory in a safe box locked tight until they can commence processing again at the next session. It is wise to book a longer session when tackling major core beliefs or memories.

If you think you are suffering from PTSD or could benefit from EMDR, book a free phone consultation with me to talk about how this may help you here :)

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