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Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

by Sarah Graham
Wednesday 10 December 2014
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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by one or more distressing, traumatic or unexpected experiences. It can be an overwhelming condition to live with, often involving flashbacks to the distressing incident, avoidance of triggers or reminders, and feeling alert to danger. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) as one of the most effective ways of treating PTSD. We asked one RSCPP therapist, Chartered Psychologist Maria Carolina Yepes, to explain what it is and how it works.

What is Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing?

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is based on our understanding that memories are normally stored in the mind and only recalled when necessary. Much of this natural mechanism occurs during sleep, particularly during rapid eye movement sleep (REM), when we are dreaming. EMDR utilises this natural process to help traumatic memories to be processed. Eye movements similar to those during sleep are recreated during therapy whilst you notice your thoughts, feelings and sensations.

Chartered Psychologist Maria Carolina Yepes


How can EMDR be applied to treating PTSD?

With repeated sets of eye movements, memories tend to change in such a way that they loose their painful intensity and become more like neutral memories. During EMDR, you remain in control and fully alert. EMDR is not a form of hypnosis. The therapist will guide you, but will intervene as little as possible. Reprocessing is usually experienced as something that happens spontaneously and new connections are felt to arise quite naturally.


How long does EMDR for PTSD typically last?

NICE recommends 8-12 sessions, depending on the severity of the trauma. 


Who is EMDR suitable for?

EMDR is most effective for the treatment of single traumas like accidents, however it can also be used for multiple and complex traumas including childhood traumas, provided the therapist is qualified and experienced. Most people could benefit from EMDR, however there are cautions against using it with people affected by certain conditions - e.g. pregnancy, epilepsy, some neurological conditions, substance misuse, chronic mood regulation or severe interpersonal difficulties.

How can I tell if a therapist is qualified to offer EMDR for PTSD?

All therapists on are accredited, registered or chartered by a UK professional body. Therapists who offer Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing will have completed additional training in EMDR.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Richard Snowdon

Finding support

You can find out more about symptoms and causes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), including how to find a therapist. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.

Find a Therapist working with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

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Updated 10 December 2014