Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a processing therapy that helps people reduce their distress and resolve memories associated with traumatic experiences and disturbing life events.Unresolved trauma is often associated with strong negative beliefs about the past event and usually involves a person feeling both emotional and physical distress when reminded of the trauma.When there is unprocessed trauma, it is ‘frozen’ or ‘stuck’ in raw form in an isolated memory network in the brain’s limbic system.

People may have forgotten the details of the distressing memory, but the painful feelings associated with the trauma such as anxiety, despair, panic, and anger can repeatedly be triggered when present events act as a reminder of the past trauma.EMDR was developed by Francine Shapiro in the 1980s and is based on a model called Adaptive Information Processing (AIP). Shapiro proposed EMDR helps heal trauma by harnessing the brain’s natural information processing system. This is achieved by using a structured 8-phase treatment approach. Bilateral stimulation is used to facilitate the trauma processing in the form of eye movements, audio tones or hand tapping while the person thinks about the traumatic experience. As processing occurs, EMDR helps create connections between the brain’s memory networks to allow the brain to process and make room for new adaptive learning and understanding and to integrate the trauma memory in a healing way. The memory loses its upsetting and painful aspects and becomes a neutral event placed firmly in the individual’s past.

Where can EMDR help?

EMDR is well-known for its use in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is recognised and endorsed as a standard treatment for PTSD by World Health Organisation, Phoenix Australia – Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, The International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies and the US Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defence. More details about EMDR can be found at the EMDR Association of Australia.EMDR has been successfully used as a treatment component in the management of :

  • anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • depression
  • stress reduction
  • phobias
  • sexual or physical abuse
  • sleep problems
  • complicated grief
  • disturbing memories
  • addictions
  • self-esteem
  • performance
  • anxiety

This video clip provides a brief overview of EMDR:For a more in-depth explanation of Adaptive Information Processing, along with the treatment phases, and research protocols please see Francine Shapiro’s (2001) Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing:  Basic principles, protocols and procedures (2nd edition) New York: Guilford Press.