What is EMDR?


See this introduction video on youtube:



A second video about EMDR and Distressing Memories is here:



Traumatic events can affect us in a number of ways. They lead us to develop inaccurate or false beliefs about ourselves or others and can result in unhelpful ways of living our lives.

A person who was a victim of an armed robbery, for example, may believe that they were targeted personally and that it is now unsafe to go outside of their house on their own.

Francine Shapiro, the originator of EMDR, described two types of traumas – major traumas or ‘Big T’ traumas and minor traumas or ‘small t’ traumas.

 ‘Big T’ traumas are events such as war, natural disasters, childhood abuse, and accidents. These have the effect of shocking us out of our usual view of the world around us. They can lead to experiences such as sleeplessness, flashbacks, anger and anxiety attacks.

There are now a number of research studies that show EMDR is an effective therapy in resolving these and is a recommended treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

‘Small t’ traumas are those events that leave us feeling low in confidence and self esteem, perhaps as a legacy of prolonged criticism or lack of support in childhood. EMDR can also be used effectively with these ‘small t’ traumas.

EMDR is also used in treating other complaints such as performance anxiety as well as trauma related, anxiety disorders.

Why can’t I just ‘get over it’?

Shapiro describes EMDR as accelerated information processing. Usually, we are able to deal with difficult experiences ourselves by processing all of the facts and feelings of the experience through our own natural ability. However, a traumatic event can override this processing ability and leave us stuck as though we are constantly re-experiencing the event. In EMDR sessions, the client is asked to focus on a particular image or sensation connected to the trauma and the therapist then adds alternating eye movements that accelerate the processing of information. The therapist may use another form of bilateral stimulation, e.g., an alternating ‘click’ sound through headphones worn by the client.

Who uses EMDR?

Here in Ireland, the HSE recommends EMDR, among others, for the treatment of PTSD.

N.I.C.E. is the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. N.I.C.E. recommends EMDR in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (2005).

EMDR is also recommended by the American Psychiatric Association for the treatment of PTSD. (2004)

The Northern Ireland Department of Health also recommends EMDR for the treatment of PTSD in adults. (2003)

Websites for further reading:http://www.emdr.com/efficacy.htm

Important message for potential clients

Be very cautious about claims that a therapy is “like EMDR” or contains bits
of EMDR.

According to American Psychological Association ethical guidelines, all
prescribed therapies should be done according to the standardized procedures
that have been examined by research. If a therapist claims to be using EMDR,
they must be following the protocols, standards and guidelines as set out in
Dr Francine Shapiro’s latest edition of her Guilford Press text EMDR:
Principles, Procedures and protocols

If your therapist is a member of the EMDR UK & Ireland Association they have
been trained to follow these standards by completing an EMDR training
program approved by EMDR Europe.


In the course of treatment, distressing memories, feelings and thoughts may arise and may continue to do so in the days following the EMDR sessions and these may be more intense than was anticipated.