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Eye movement desensitisation & reprocessing (emdr)

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy used to help people recover from traumatic events and the difficulties they may have caused, such as flashbacks, upsetting thoughts or images, and/or distressing emotions. EMDR is recognised in the NICE guidelines as an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, and there is increasing research that shows it can be effective in alleviating depression and anxiety. If you have experienced past difficult life events  that may have contributed to, or be maintaining your eating or body image difficulties, then EMDR can be a powerful treatment to help you move forward in recovery.

What does EMDR involve?

The aim of EMDR is to help individual's process memories that may be causing current distress. Often these memories are of a traumatic or upsetting event, or memories that may have shaped a person's belief about themselves. When a target memory has been identified, the clinician will ask the client to focus on an aspect of the memory whilst also asking them to track the clinician's hand with their eyes as it moves back and forth across their field of vision.

There are two current therories as to why EMDR is able to effectively process distressing memories:

  1. The eye movements are thought to replicate the mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which is the part of sleep associated with memory processing.

  2. Recalling the traumatic memory at the same time as completing the eye movements places a strain on the working memory. It is hypothesised that the working memory attempts to cope with this by reducing the emotional load of the memory, thus making the emotions associated with the memory less raw and distressing.


The theory behind EMDR is that the brain already has powerful healing mechanisms to process distressing memories, and EMDR helps to unlock the brain's capacity to heal.

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