EMDR Common Misconceptions

Posted 04/01/2024

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, commonly known as EMDR, is a form of psychotherapy which can reduce the effects for many sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder and complex-traumatic stress disorder.  EMDR was initially developed in the USA in the 1980s by a clinical psychologist called Francine Shapiro.

It's not a technique
From the outside EMDR looks like a simple technique. You think of a traumatic memory, follow the therapist's fingers moving your eyes left to right, and see what comes up. What's important to note is that EMDR is not a technique, rather it's an integrative eight-phase therapy based on the Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) theory, so there's framework for practitioners to think about.

It's easy to do
EMDR is an advanced psychotherapy model and this is because EMDR therapists have trained in another modality. For example, I'm a psychodynamic counsellor and an EMDR practitioner. Working with trauma often requires some heavy lifting, for both the therapist and the client, and EMDR can be a helpful way of reducing anxiety, fear and flashbacks, but EMDR requires a high level of skill, so a mental health clinical background is an essential prerequisite for the effective application of EMDR treatment. It's also best practice for EMDR training providers to require evidence of the therapist's accreditation with particular professional bodies.

You just move your eyes about
EMDR isn't necessarily about the eye movements, but what this movement does to our brain. The eye movements cause specific changes in the communication between the cortical hemispheres; the right and left hand sides of the brain. This bilateral movement facilitates a desensitisation process for a traumatic memory along with cognitive restructuring.

Will I forget the memory?
Absolutely not. EMDR doesn't remove memories. It helps people to develop new ways of thinking about a past trauma and that can reduce the heat and rawness on recalling the distressing memory. A client shared with me that one particular traumatic memory felt like a vivid picture on the wall that kept pulling them in and surrounding them. After a few sessions of EMDR this memory changed to an old picture on a wall that could be viewed, but one that had no emotion attached to it.

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