EMDR: neuro-emotional integration through eye movements

EMDR therapy helps heal trauma and painful events. In this article, discover what EMDR therapy in London is and what it consists of, what are its principles, its history and its benefits.

In addition, we answer your questions on how to train in EMDR, the course of a session as well as its effectiveness in view of the scientific literature.

EMDR, what is it?

The acronym EMDR comes from the English Eye Movement Desentitization and Reprocessing, which means in French “Desensitization and Reprocessing by Ocular Movements”.

This method, which was created by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s, has gained popularity for its potency in treating phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A therapeutic technique in its own right, EMDR follows a rigorous procedure with the particularity of using bilateral stimulation (which can be visual, tactile or sound).

This call for stimulation would have the ability to recode negatively coded images, perceptions and memories in the emotional brain and thus reduce their negative impact on the life of the individual.

The principles of EMDR

The goal of EMDR is to decrease the emotional charge associated with a traumatic memory.

To do this, the subject must intensely re-immerse themselves in their stressful emotions while the therapist periodically interrupts the experience to induce sensory stimulation, such as rapidly moving their fingers in front of the person’s face.

The rhythmic movement of the two eyes would be the same as that which takes place spontaneously when an individual dreams (during the so-called Rapid Eye Movement phase).

This stimulation would restructure the traumatic information in the cortex and no longer in the limbic brain, linked to emotions. Indeed, it is because the memory could not be processed by the cortex and has overinvested the emotional brain that the symptoms appear and persist.

The recoding induced by the eye movements makes it possible to reduce the emotional charge associated with the memory.

In general, this process is natural and spontaneous, which is why certain traumas leave few traces.

When the trauma is too violent, or the individual is in a period of invulnerability, this process fails and gives way to symptoms.  

The benefits of EMDR

In general, EMDR can generate positive feelings, facilitate awareness and change beliefs and behaviors.

This technique is also used to strengthen the patient’s internal resources, allowing him to adopt the desired changes.

Thus, EMDR is effective in treating several more specific disorders.

Reduce symptoms related to post-traumatic stress

Many scientific studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of EMDR on this condition.

In a 2009 study on the effect of EMDR therapy in the management of traumatic grief, the results revealed a decrease:

  • traumatic grief;
  • anxiety;
  • depression;
  • the psychological distress of the participants.

In addition, another study demonstrated the greater effectiveness of EMDR therapy over placebos and antidepressants. Indeed, after 6 months, 57% of the 88 patients no longer had symptoms thanks to EMDR.

However, some authors have reported that the positive effects of EMDR on symptoms did not last for six months and five years after treatments.

Thus, EMDR has been proven to help victims of war, crime and sexual assault.

Reduce chronic pain

The results of EMDR in the treatment of chronic pain are encouraging.

This therapy would decrease painful sensations through an improvement in the physical and emotional perception of pain, and reduce negative affects, levels of anxiety and depression related to pain.

Treating Phobias

Several studies seek to verify the effectiveness of EMDR in the treatment of phobias.

However, the lack of scientific literature and research on this subject does not ensure that real conclusions can be reached, even if it appears that EMDR would still have positive effects on phobic symptoms.

EMDR in practice

How to apply the EMDR method?

In order to practice EMDR, you must have undergone training. This is made up of 50% theoretical courses and 50% practical exercises and comprises two levels accompanied by a supervision cycle.

Access to this training is reserved for psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, occupational psychologists and psychotherapists.

What is an EMDR session like?

The EMDR session begins with a preparatory interview aimed at gathering information about the patient. This will be done through a deep exploration of the patient’s problem as well as a serious anamnesis.

The therapist will then ask his patient to think about the traumatic memory and to evaluate on a scale its emotional impact. This evaluation will serve as a benchmark to assess the effectiveness of the therapy as the sessions progress.

After that, the therapist asks the subject to visualize the event at the source of the problem and to maintain their concentration. Representation can be visual, emotional, cognitive or physical.

At times during the process, the therapist subjects the subject to a sensory stimulus affecting both sides of the body. It can be movements in front of the eyes, sounds on either side of the head, or tapping on both arms. Then the process starts again, and so on several times.

Between each stimulation, there may be a dialogue between the therapist and the patient about the perceptions, emotions and sensations related to this event, but not necessarily.

EMDR, is it really effective?

The scientific community and several government agencies (INSERM, WHO) accept EMDR as an effective method for treating post-traumatic stress disorder since it has been the focus of numerous decisive research.

However, EMDR therapy is no more effective than other psychological approaches to healing trauma according to some studies.

Moreover, other studies would have shown that the eye movements so characteristic of this technique would not be necessary for the therapeutic process.

History of EMDR

In 1979, Francine Shapiro learned of her cancer, which led her to explore the links between stress, mental activity and disease. After resuming her studies in psychology and obtaining a doctorate, it was while walking in a park that she was led on the trail of EMDR.

Assailed by dark thoughts and ruminations, she noticed that when she moved her eyes from left to right, it helped reduce negative thoughts, and lessen their emotional charge when these thoughts reappeared.

Francine therefore hypothesized a link between the two events. There followed a few months of experimentation on herself, then with her loved ones, and finally with her clients in psychotherapy.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *